When Tommy Starling and his husband Jeff Littlefield first attended Provincetown’s Family Week, they did it because they had committed to finding opportunities for their children to meet other kids with LGBTQ parents.
Tommy and Jeff, who live in South Carolina, are fathers to two young children, ages one and seven. “Because the kids aren’t exposed to families like ours at home, we thought Family Week would help them make friends and give them a sense of belonging,” Starling says.
Jeff and Tommy didn’t realize then that Family Week would be such a meaningful experience for them, as well. “It’s amazing to be in the majority and not the minority,” Starling adds. “I can’t think of anywhere else we can go and experience that as a family.”
This is a sentiment shared by many families who’ve attended Family Week over the years.
“We didn’t know a lot of other same-sex couples that had adopted through foster care, much less families with children of different races,” shares Diane Tomaz.
Tomaz and her spouse, Shelley, only take one family vacation per year and needed to find something that would work for the whole family. They’ve been to Family Week three times.
“Our boys, who are now five and seven, kept saying ‘we love it here!’ but couldn’t verbalize why,” Tomaz recalls. “Seeing other kids who looked like them but had parents of a different race was so valuable. It’s very powerful to get together with others like us and share our stories. The event absolutely delivered on what we were seeking.”
Most of the Family Week events are organized by the Family Equality Council® with a mission to help LGBTQ parents build community and inform and empower them about the issues facing their families.
The event started with a small group of families who met while vacationing in Provincetown back in 1996, then started to gather each summer thereafter. Some of the early leaders of Family Equality Council were part of that group.
Eventually, after the event grew from a mere 15 families to hundreds, Family Equality Council began to partner with other organizations, such as R Family Vacations, and organize activities for individuals of all ages.
Activities planned for 2014—from which attendees can pick and choose—include family events, children and youth events, activities for parents and other adults and “affinity gatherings” that connect those with a common interest or attribute, such as grandparents, adoptive families, single parent families and the like.
For the kids, the beach campfire, family dance, and Pride Parade are often sited as the most memorable.
“We really enjoy the final day parade,” says Nicole LaFlamme who attended Family Week with her wife, Kerry, and their six-year old twins.
“It’s very moving because you’re there with all your new friends,” LaFlamme says. “Everyone is happy, the kids are riding their bikes and screaming—or crying because they don’t want to say goodbye. It’s colorful and fun, which I think represents what LGBT community is today.”
Other programs during Family Week include:
- “Kidapalooza” where children ages three to eight interact with peers in age-appropriate activities
- “Little’s Gathering” at which parents with children up to age four meet at the Bas Relief Park to enjoy a bouncy house, face painting and toy time
- Sessions for the “Outspoken Generation®” where individuals ages 12 and up with LGBTQ parents can share their personal stories and discuss the myths and misinformation of growing up in an LGBTQ family
- Parent Cafés that give parents an opportunity (while the kids are having fun in their programming) to participate in topic-specific community conversations and build their parenting support networks
The Parent Cafés are a big draw for many adults, including Johnny and Todd Cole, parents to two foster-adopted children, ages six and seven.
“The Cafés provide a great opportunity to talk to other LGBT parents about parenting practices and share feelings and thoughts in a safe setting,” Todd says.
Starling agrees, remembering a Café session where a lesbian couple shared with the group that they were not out in their home neighborhood.
“Family Week was the only time they could be who they are,” Starling says. “It was shocking to me that they still felt they had to be hidden. But it was also touching to know they could be open that week and their children were having a good time and felt like they belonged.”
Belonging clearly is the common theme. “We like that there are a lot of families that look like ours but also a lot that don’t,” says Johnny Cole who shared that every member of their family is a different race.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to talk with our kids about the different ways families are made,” Johnny says. “It’s a place where every family is different from the heterosexual, biological families our kids see every day around the neighborhood, on TV or in the movies,” says Johnny. “So to be part of the majority for once is very nice.”
“Everyone is so welcoming of us and our children, not just the other families but the staff, interns, volunteers and older kids too,” husband Todd adds. He says it feels good to be able to provide young LGBTQ adults—such as the college students who intern as volunteers for the week—with positive examples of a gay family.
“We never had the opportunity as young men to see something like that,” Todd recalls. “At this point, we’ve overcome the hurdle that maybe, by adopting as gay parents, we were doing something not a lot of others were doing. But hopefully by being involved in Family Week these young adults will see the possibilities of having a family and what our version of normalcy looks like.”
Wendy O’Dea is a travel writer and editor, and she’s currently the managing editor of GayFamilyTrips.com. She’s a single mom raising her daughter in Southern California.
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