Becoming LGBTQ-Positive: Welcoming all Families into our Programs
Rachel has been a queer parenting activist, educator and researcher for the last twenty years, and since 2001 has been the coordinator of the LGBTQ Parenting Network, at the Sherbourne Health Centre, in Toronto, “that provides resources, support, and information to LGBTQ parents and prospective parents. We also do research, advocacy and training. Since 1997 I’ve been teaching a course called Dykes Planning Tykes, a 12-week course for lesbian/bisexual/queer women who are considering parenthood. DPT spawned Daddies&Papas 2B, a similar course for gay/bisexual/queer men, and that in turn spawned Trans Fathers 2B, a course for FTM (female-to-male) men considering parenthood. These courses, run jointly with Queer Parenting Programs at the 519 Church St. Community Centre, provide prospective parents with a place to get information, to grapple with important decisions, to meet and hear about the journeys of other LGBTQ parents, and, most importantly, to build community.” She was the 2008 recipient of the Steinert & Ferreiro Award (Community One Foundation), recognizing her leadership and pivotal contributions towards the support, recognition, and inclusion of queer parents and their children in Canada.
They said:“In 2001 the LGBTQ Parenting Network held a series of focus groups asking LGBTQ parents and prospective parents to identify important issues and program needs.
- We want information and support in order to create families.
- We want connection for ourselves and our children with other LGBTQ families, opportunities to hang out, socialize and to talk with others about important issues.
- We are worried about our kids’ experiences in schools.
- How do we find LGBTQ positive professionals and programs?”
The work of addressing these identified issues has led to the development of the concept of “LGBTQ Cultural Competence: A deep level of knowledge translated into behaviours and practices that recognize and acknowledge the histories, cultures and values of LGBTQ communities.”
In the article, Rachel itemizes the following suggestions for individuals and organizations working to create a positive environment for LGBTQ families:
“For individuals, LGBTQ cultural competence includes:
- Examine your earliest beliefs about LGBTQ people. Think back to your childhood. What were some of the first things you ever learned about LGBTQ people (positive, negative, neutral)? Who taught you these things? How were the ideas transmitted? Sometimes we have to challenge ideas we learned very young; we have to have a dialogue with ourselves about what we learned and what we believe now.
- Learn the language. LGBTTTIQQ. What do the letters stand for? Are you familiar with the ways that people self-identify? Do you understand the difference between biological sex, gender identity and sexual orientation? Have you practiced asking people respectfully about their identities, if you are unsure? How can you keep up with cultural shifts in the use of language?
- Learn about the social context within which LGBTQ families live. Thirty years ago, 88% of lesbians fighting for custody of their children in courts lost. In some parts of the United States, judges continue to be actively homo and transphobic, and in many states LGBTQ people continue to be denied basic rights, for eg. the right to adopt children. In Canada, although LGBTQ families have achieved unprecedented legal and social recognition, a significant percent of the population continues to believe that gays and lesbians should be denied the right to parent. This history of, and continued, discrimination means that people may approach services with some hesitation and/or doubt, or with an expectation of discrimination. What can you do to set people at ease?
- Understand the myriad of ways that LGBTQ people create families. Some have children in heterosexual contexts, before they “come out” or transition. Others have children within the context of LGBTQ identities – through donor insemination, adoption, surrogacy, or co-parenting with others with whom they are not sexually/romantically involved. Many of us are parenting children with whom we are not biologically related. Some of us are single parents; some of our families may have two, three or four parents. Some of us may have known sperm donors or donor dads who are more or less involved in parenting. Become familiar with the diversity of family structures and dynamics that exist in LGBTQ communities.
- Avoid assumptions and stay open. Don’t assume you know someone’s sex, gender or sexual orientation just by looking at them. Create spaces where they can tell you about themselves and their families.”
“For organizations, LGBTQ cultural competence includes:
- Organizational anti-discrimination polices and procedures that include sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Staff that are trained to be culturally competent in relation to LGBTQ communities - to be aware of and sensitive to the needs, concerns and sensibilities of LGBTQ clients, including the specific needs of trans-identified clients.
- Intake and procedure forms that explicitly make room for family configurations that do not assume male/female relationships, or a 2-parent model – i.e. that recognize the sometimes complex family configurations that LGBTQ people, and others, are forming.
- Involvement of all family members, including partners, known sperm donors and co-parents.
- Cues that services are LGBTQ positive. These might include positive space imagery or posters and brochures depicting LGBTQ families. Individual service providers can provide cues that they are open to LGBTQ families through choice of gender-neutral language, and attention to the ways that questions are posed.
- Information available about local LGBTQ services, supports and resources. Where feasible offer LGBTQ-specific services or services in partnership with LGBTQ communities and/or service providers.
- Strive for a unified standard of care across geographic regions, and facilitate access for people living outside of major urban centres.”
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