Just the Beginning

By Michael Mortensen,
an Our Family Coalition Communications & Media Coordinator for Summer 2015

It is 9:12 and the San Francisco BART train will be coming any minute.  I make my way through the crowd, and squeeze into the closest car.  Today is my first day at Our Family Coalition as a communications intern, and I cannot be late.

I have been looking forward to starting this internship since the moment I applied.  Ever since I visited San Francisco this past December, I knew I had to get an internship there.  “Communications intern needed for Bay area LGBTQ Family non-profit”.  I have always wanted to get involved in the LGBTQ community, I am great with kids, and it is in San Francisco!  This was the perfect internship for me.

I quickly learned that the working with Our Family Coalition is so much more than posting on Facebook and sending a few tweets.  On a daily basis I was challenged, and almost convicted, by my previously held beliefs and opinions.  I thought I knew about the problems and discrimination LGBTQ families faced, but this Arizonian came to realize that he still had (and has) so much to learn.

Our Family Coalition provides an outlet for Bay area LGBTQ families to come together and create a world of inclusion, advocacy, and social justice.  This includes creating LGBTQ education, supporting policy, and gender neutral bathrooms.  Coming from a conservative state, this was all very new to me.  It never occurred to me that these issues existed, and how important fighting these social injustices are for children and families.

I had the privilege to witness history in the making at San Francisco City Hall an early June morning, to hear mayor Ed Lee, NCLR’s Kate Kendell, and Gavin Newsom speak about this win for America.  I still cannot believe that I was literally there when Marriage Equality became nationwide, and at the place where it all started, at the heart of San Francisco.  And yet, this was only the beginning.

Before this internship, I thought marriage was the final step to LGBTQ discrimination, but there is still so much more to be done.  Transgender rights, black rights, LGBTQ adoption and foster care, and LGBTQ family protection are just some of the many issues OFC is tackling.  Our Family Coalition is making a real difference in the Bay Area, and throughout my time here, I was educated on these issues and their importance.  Before, I thought “hey, this doesn’t affect me” but now I am beginning to realize that yes, it actually does, because it affects everyone.   I have the freedom to marry, but I cannot take this for granted.  It took decades of hard work and unprecedented violence for change to happen. I no longer want to stand on the sidelines watching social justice take place.  I want to be in the crowd and on the front lines, demanding change

Living in the Bay Area this summer, I grew my digital communications skills, maturity, but most importantly I developed a new responsibility to use this momentum of change to make a difference.  I want to inspire others back at home to join the crowd, educate themselves, and advocate for real equality.

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On Queer and Racial Justice: A Walk with Reality

sibuTo live in an environment which criminalizes being queer can be quite a drag.  so one can only imagine my excitement when I got selected for the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders which gave me an opportunity to live in the United States for a total of thirteen weeks. From the media, I could tell that being queer in the US is not the same as being queer in my country. Or so I thought.

One thing I keep saying is that the media representation of the US is really not quite what is on the ground. Back home, I have to deal with the consequences of being queer. In Zambia, I live a pretty interesting life depending on the particular space I find myself in. I must mention that I participate in the queer movement, feminist movement and these feed into the general human rights movement. What I find particularly interesting about the spaces I find myself in are the layers of different kinds of ‘treatment’ I receive. Within the queer community, I am considered a leader so there is an interesting way that I am treated. It is with respect and my opinion matters there. When I get into the feminist space, well, I get in that space as queer and that sort of drops the respect and the weight my opinion carries because I am queer. In the general human rights space, I go in as queer, young and female. In a male dominated space with the older generation taking the lead, you can only imagine the value my opinion gets.

In the U.S on the other hand, my existence comes with an extra layer, my race. You see, my race is not really a problem when I am in my country, where the population is predominantly black. I have only had very few instances where I directly encountered a situation, which highlighted white privilege.

I arrived in the US four days after the Charleston church shooting at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina. The media covered the story widely. I do, remember the framing of the crimes that have seen black young men being killed and I realized that there was a certain way the media was framing the shooter at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. It was not that he was racist or that he was a criminal. Rather, I was struck at the almost ‘victim’ representation he was getting. People talked about him being a troubled child and how that led to him shooting 9 people and he received more than decent treatment from the cops.

A few weeks later, the story about a black woman, Sandra Bland hit the media. She was arrested for a wrong signal on a highway in Texas. I saw the arrest video and it was completely horrifying. One would think that she was being arrested for shooting 9 people and not a traffic offence. Sadly, the lady was found dead in her police cell and the police said she ‘hanged herself’ which did not make sense to me but that is a blog for another day. Anyway, these two stories to me symbolised one thing if not more, that racial injustice was alive and kicking in the US.

I realised that not only was I in danger because of my sexual orientation, my race was also a point of discrimination during my entire stay. It gets worse when one is a low-income earner.

One of the programs during the Fellowship was being attached to an organization for professional development experience and I am so lucky to be working at Our Family Coalition. One conversation which has come up is the queer movement and the involvement when it comes to racial justice. I feel that the intersectionality between race and sexual orientation and/or gender identity is something that cannot be ignored as these are two of the most fundamental strands to one’s identity. They contribute hugely to one’s sum of parts and how they are positioned in the various systems in the US society.

To discuss gender identity and leave out race especially in the US reminds me of the time when the women’s movement discussed middle class, white women’s issues and made women look so homogeneous when that is not the case in reality. This meant that others felt left out in this struggle and the struggle did not address their needs. The result of this was a fragmentation of the women’s movement. Same principle applies to the queer movement as queer people are not positioned in a homogenous way. People need to realize the privilege they come with in different queer spaces and to make a conscious effort to include issues that affect other queer people, race and ethnic background being paramount.

I get that marriage equality was a huge step for the movement. But on close inspection, I wonder who it really is serving. In as much as marriage is a declaration of love, it also expresses issues like economic security and stability. With the number of homeless and unemployed queer people, I am not sure how this would benefit them. I am left thinking of the homeless, queer youth of color, low income earners and the Trans community and how this law benefits their different struggles and the question I find myself asking is who defined this agenda?

For a while, I actually thought the people that have families in areas like San Francisco are white gay men as they are the ones who are frequently profiled. I was amazed to see so many different family formations (with white families being dominant still) at a campout which was recently organised by Our Family Coalition. I wondered why POC queer parents were not profiled more in the media and I realised it’s the race issue. To pretend that in the queer movement, race is not an issue would only mean ‘othering’ issues that are fundamental to people’s existence.

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Since coming to the US, one thing is clear. I am scared not only because of my sexual orientation but my race too. I do understand that there are more progressive laws as compared to the country I come from but my fear is not that of the law but the law enforcers themselves and how the media profiles people like me, a black, queer woman. Never the less, I plan on enjoying my stay in San Francisco and learning as much as I can.

Biography: Sibusiso Malunga has over 5 years experience in human rights work with a specific focus on LGBTQ rights as well as women and girls rights. She has experience in HIV/AIDS prevention initiatives as well as economic empowerment for women in rural areas. Sibusiso is also largely involved in regional feminist organizing and she is active in the young African feminist movement. She is a co-founder of an LGBTQ organization called The Lotus identity based in Zambia, which works on advocacy, capacity building, and research and documentation. She was selected for the Mandela Washington Fellowship, a Young African Leaders Initiative by president Barrack Obama which brings 500 young leaders from across Africa to some top universities in the US for six weeks intensive training in leadership skills. 100 of the fellows remain in the US for the professional development experience and Sibusiso is currently a fellow at Our Family Coalition in the policy department.

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Alphabet Soup Episode 5: Family Equality Edition

Featuring:
Cathy Sakimura, Deputy Director & Family Law Director at NCLR
Tarah Fleming, Our Family Coalition’s Education Director

Food for Thought with Hali Martin, Policy Intern at Our Family Coalition

Host: Renata Moreira, Our Family Coalition’s Acting Executive Director

Tune in to the new episode of Alphabet Soup, where we discuss family equality with Cathy Sakimura and what is still at stake for LGBTQ-families. Some topics touched upon are what steps families can take to protect themselves until full legal recognition and protection of LGBTQ families is established, and increasing access to legal services for low income families through the Family Protection Project.

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Alphabet Soup Episode 4: Racial Justice Edition

Featuring

Amber Todd, Co-chair of Oakland Pride
Tarah Fleming, Our Family Coalition’s Education Director

Food for Thought with Allen Johnson, Our Family Coalition’s Development Associate

Host: Renata Moreira, Our Family Coalition’s Acting Executive Director

What does it mean to be an ally? How can privilege be used to move the pendulum of change? How can we give our kids the tools and knowledge needed to navigate growing up in a racist society, and empower them to use their voices to be a part of the solution?

Tune in to Alphabet Soup to listen to moving and urgent conversations with Amber Todd, proud mother of four and co-chair of Oakland Pride, and Tarah Fleming, Education Director of Our Family Coalition and co-founder of the Youth Action Project, which exists within the White Privilege Conference.

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Solo Parent Support

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By Dr. Meghan Lewis

soloparentspicAs my bio-clock struck thirty, the resounding tick-tock of surging pregnancy urges pushed me eagerly into musings over a wide range of reproductive and family building options. Having hoped from the days of my youth that I would grow a baby, as a queer-identified, single person, I began to seriously consider how that might actually happen.

I wondered if I would eventually marry a woman with whom I’d raise a family, perhaps via the offering of a donor-relative on her side. Maybe I’d seek out a close friend to share in a lifetime of parenting. Perhaps I’d meet a gay male couple who’d be delighted to co-create a kid or two.

Fast forward five years: No wife in sight, no potential donor-friend living in close proximity, and no family-oriented gay male couple in my inner circle. With the desire to grow my family soaring cycle-by-cycle, it became clearer to me that the path to parenthood would be unfolding quite differently then expected.

I had, however, often imagined self-fertilization as part of the process. So, when rolling out Plan B, i.e. intentional solo parenting via anonymous donor, I figured my next step was to explore alternate avenues for seed seeking. And like good gardeners do, I sought the best seed for a healthy, fruitful harvest. (My bottom line: no GMO’s, only homos). After narrowing down my choice of local sperm banks, I finally picked my heirloom seed and as fastidious farmer, turned my physical form into fecund field; an empowering process of planting and propagating my very own progeny.

soloparent-pullquote1Throughout the last ten years of raising said progeny on my own, I have found it to be an equally empowering process though not without bouts of great challenge and a kind of slow birth of deep perseverance, lots of unknowns, and unexpected twists and turns. Likewise, it seems similarly true for single parents who are on their own due to unanticipated circumstances such as divorce, death, or deportation of a partner or spouse. These parents also must conjure up enduring fortitude, self-determination, and exemplary flexibility.

Regardless of our families’ unique formation, for all of us parenting solo, I believe it is essential to cultivate a persistently empowered perspective– one that also holds our unique family as a complete family. Contrary to popular belief, solo parenthood does not have to be outrageously difficult, lonely, isolating, profoundly exhausting, or brokenly awaiting the buoyant balancing of another. We have access to what it takes to raise our children with optimism, love, tons of fun, and a deep sense purpose, belonging, and connection.

To help support the continued growth of an empowered parenting perspective, each month OFC offers a dinner gathering for solo parent families at the Children’s Creativity Museum, SF. Join us for community building and parent-driven discussions on a wide range of experiences and topics while your kid(s) enjoy supervised exploration of the many creative activities the museum has to offer.

– Discuss effective strategies for handling the unique challenges and responsibilities of solo parenting.

– Identify your hopes and intentions for yourself and your child(ren) and explore creative ways of attaining your personal and parenting goals.

– Learn healthy decompression/stress reduction practices.

– Discover helpful Bay Area parenting resources.

– Receive support and understanding while growing your community of local solo parents.

Register now! Free.

About the facilitator:

Dr. Meghan Lewis is a queer, solo parent by choice of a ten year old son and the founder of Integrative Perinatal Psychotherapy with offices in Oakland and SF.  She is also the founding member of LGBTQ Perinatal Wellness Associates of the Bay Area, a group of LGBTQ-identified professionals dedicated to the health of our community’s growing families. Meghan served on the Board of Berkeley’s BirthWays and is currently on the Advisory Board of Oakland’s Then Comes Baby where she offers support for LGBTQ families-to-be, those trying to conceive (TTC) and throughout early parenthood. Additionally, she offers preconception consultations and birth doula care through Wombservice Midwifery.

meghanlewisphd@gmail.com
www.lgbtqperinatalassociates.com
www.wombservicemidwifery.com

AB960update

The Equal Protection for All Families Act is one step closer to becoming the law!

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This Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to pass the Equal Protection for All Families Act (Assembly Bill 960). This important bill – authored by Assemblymember David Chiu and co-sponsored by Our Family Coalition, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Equality California – is expected to be voted on by the full Senate in two weeks and will continue to move towards the governor for signature. And we need YOU to make sure the Equal Protection for All Families Act becomes the law of the land.

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At present, California’s laws regarding assisted reproduction are outdated and fail to recognize the diverse ways that families are formed and to provide legal protection and security for parents and children alike. Unmarried parents who use assisted reproduction to conceive children in the privacy of their home are not recognized as the legal parents of their children. The new bill would update the current assisted reproduction laws in the state to ensure parents and their children are not at risk and do not have to jump through unnecessary legal hoops in order to secure what should be a basic right.

AB960will

  • Allow unmarried people using assisted reproduction to be fully recognized as parents on the same terms as married parents.

  • Remove the requirement that couples must involve a doctor when using assisted reproduction in order to ensure that the donor is not a parent.

  • Provide clear direction for how egg and known sperm donors should be treated under California law; protecting both parents and donors from very real concerns.

“This bill is about granting recognition and economic access to all prospective parents, ” says Renata Moreira, Our Family Coalition’s Acting Executive Director.” AB 960 is going to particularly benefit lower income LGBT parents who will be able to use more affordable methods of assisted reproduction, and still be protected under California law.” By failing to provide legal protections for these families, the state is failing both parents and children. All families deserve equitable protection and recognition under the eyes of the law.

As we continue to advocate for the passage of AB960, we call on you – LGBTQ parents who may have been affected by the current discriminatory legislation and may be ready to speak out. Personal stories and testimony have a powerful impact on lawmakers and can play a key part for the decision to pass the Equal Protection for All Families Act. Specifically, Our Family Coalition is looking to connect with:

  • Parents of any relationship recognition status who used home insemination, then had to terminate the donor’s rights and do a second parent adoption in order to be protected.

  • Unmarried or unregistered domestic partnered couples using assisted reproductive technology to conceive who had to adopt to protect their parental rights.

  • Potential donors who were afraid to support a friend or relative’s family formation due to the informality of the arrangement and the prohibitive costs of intervention by doctors or lawyers.

Do you recognize yourself or anyone you know in any of these descriptions?

Are you willing to share your story to help lawmakers make the right decision for families in California?

Please contact policy@ourfamily.org if you want to support for the Equal Protection for All Families Act and help shape the future of our families.

 

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Thanks for Making Pride 2015 a Success – and a preview of our pics!

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Dear Families and Friends,

Wow! This year’s Pride was incredible, as the whole Bay Area celebrated our victory in the Supreme Court last Friday. Hundreds of kids – including more teens than ever – gathered with parents, grandparents, caregivers, friends, and allies at both the Parade and in the Family Garden. I had such a great time at Pride this year. The energy was electric and fun.

DSC_9468I know our work is important to you because it impacts that which is most precious to you: your kids. I am asking you to please make a donation to Our Family Coalition so that we can continue to do all we do for our families and build on our momentum for change.

_MG_6448The nationwide right to marry offers hope for the future of our children. We cannot stop here. We need your financial support to continue the momentum for our families.

Thank you so much for celebrating this historic Pride with us!  Every one of us makes a difference.

In gratitude,

PS: We are so glad to hear that your family and friends also had a great time at Pride. Please share your photos and great memories on our Page to inspire other families! See you at Oakland Pride on September 13! #familypride #proudofmyfamily.

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The Alphabet Soup – Episode 3: Pride Edition

In this episode of The Alphabet Soup with Our Family Coalition we discuss Family Pride. QMOC Anayvette Martinez and her daughter Lupita share their inspiration and goals for the amazing group the Radical Monarchs. Then, Captain Chris Armijo, a fierce advocate and single gay dad of twin girls, speaks about creating inclusive spaces for his family in Texas

Featuring:
Anayvette Martinez, Community Organizer, Parent and Advocate & Lupita Martinez
Chris Armijo, Parent, Captain & Advocate

Host: Judy Appel, Our Family Coalition’s Executive Director

Food for Thought with:
Polly Pagenhart, Our Family Coalition’s Family Programs Director

Polly at Pride

5 Pride Pro-tips for Pride-Rookie Parents

This piece was originally published on the OFC Blog on June 24, 2014. It is re-posted here with current links for the 2015 Pride extravaganza!

Polly at Pride

Polly at Pride

If this your first Pride with your family, you’re probably wondering how you’re going to get through the day with your good humor — and your wee charges – intact. And for good reason!

The downside of pride-as-a-parent: it’s not the same as when you were a footloose, fancy-free non-parent. The parade route covers nearly a mile and a half, which amounts to a half-hour walk on hard pavement even before you factor in the pre-parade wait and the stop-and-go of parading.

The pride-as-a-parent upside, especially if you march with the OFC contingent: it’s nothing short of transcendent, walking up Market Street with your whole family, watching your children be cheered on by rainbow flag-waving strangers like they’re astronauts returning from the moon.  The supply of pride from that s/hero’s welcome lasts a year, and is well worth what you go through to enable your kids to experience it.

If you make it to the Family Garden (or go there directly), you’ll be greeted by a veritable sea of our families, safely frolicking inside our very own playground.  We’ll have healthy snacks and beverages inside there, plus our own port-a-potties (not to be underestimated!). Also: balloon animals, face painting, story time, and play structure fun.

So! For all pride-rookie parents, here are five essential things to remember:

  1. Bring food and water.

  2. Bring wheels, if you can.

  3. Remember sun protection.

  4. Attach an ID to the little ones.

  5. Create an exit strategy and end on a good note.

1. Bring food and water. This one’s close to a parental no-brainier: it’s a warm, sunny June day, and even in the most minimalist of scenarios you’ll be out in the elements for hours plural. We’ll be distributing some water at the contingent gathering spot, but even so, be sure to bring enough water to hydrate yourself and your little ones. Plus do bring easy-to-carry healthy snacks to curb the hunger pangs.  We’ll be selling healthy snacks and smoothies at cost in the Family Garden, so just hold it together ‘til you get there!

2. Bring wheels, if you can. The only thing nearly as important as food & water are wheels, any wheels, whatever wheels you’re able bring to the parade site & schlepp back home: stroller (no big kid is too big if they can jam into it!), wagon, scooter, tricycle, skateboard, roller blades, bikes: whatever conveyance you can bring that will ease the mile, bring it! I even saw a family with a custom rig: someone attached wheels to the bottom of a crib, and they rolled that ’til it gave up the ghost half-way up the street.

3. Remember sun protection. It’ll be sunny, and sun protection of any & all sorts is in order: wide-brimmed hat; sunglasses; sunscreen. Again: it’s going to be hours in the sun on a fine June day. Don’t overheat or burn.

4. Attach an ID to the little ones. Whether you go low-tech and write your name (not the kids’ name) and cell phone number on their little forearms, or you affix one of those ID wristbands on ’em, or you somehow securely attach a laminated card to your kid’s person, be sure there is a super-clear way for someone to know to contact you in the unlikely yet very upsetting event you’re separated.

5. Create an exit strategy and end on a good note.  Talk together as a family about what to expect from Pride, and how much is going to feel like enough. Reading through Gayle Pitman’s fantastic new book This Day in June would be fantastic prep; she’ll be in the Family Garden this year reading from the book and hanging out with families. Agree in advance how you’ll decide when it’s time to go, whether it’s the grown ups or the kids who are supersaturated. It’s a thrilling day, but for years, my own family simply marched up Market Street and then dropped down into BART at Civic Center, as full as we could manage. One of the key tenets of dog training is “End on a good note!” so that the most recent memory is a positive one. That goes for Pride, too.

Together we can make this the Best! Pride! Ever!

By Polly Pagenhart, Family Programs Director at Our Family Coalition
Polly also blogs at Lesbian Dad

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The Alphabet Soup – Episode 2: Family Activism Edition

In the second episode of The Alphabet Soup with Our Family Coalition, Julia and Zach of The Rainbow Letters share inspiring and powerful stories about growing up with parents who are lesbian or gay. Listen in to an engaging conversation with Willy Wilkinson on parenting, activism and his new book Born on the Edge of Race and Gender: A Voice for Cultural Competency.

Guests:
Zach Wahls and Julia Winston, The Rainbow Letters
Willy Wilkinson, Author, Activist & Parent

Host:
Judy Appel, Executive Director

Food for Thought with:
Renata Moreira, Policy and Communications Director
Our Family Coalition