Family Pride, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that works for equality for LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) parents and their children, first came into the consciousness of many Northern Virginians last spring. That was when the 27-year-old organization helped organize families to participate in the traditional White House Easter Egg Roll.
“We thought what better place to showcase our families but at the largest event for children that we know of in this country, the White House Easter Egg Roll,” said Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of Family Pride. The idea was the inspiration of New York moms Colleen Gillespie and Alisa Surkis.
Over 100 LGBT families participated (wearing rainbow leis), many of who came from Northern Virginia. Washington, D.C. resident Chrisler and her partner, Cheryl Jacques, former president of the Human Rights Campaign, and their 4-year-old twin sons, Timmy and Tommy, were among those in attendance.
“I was surprised by how moved I was by being there,” said Chrisler. “The White House is such a symbol of our country. It is, at the end of the day, the people’s house. It’s the place where people can go and feel in touch with our government in all its goodness and all the things that might be wrong with it. You’re on the lawns of the grounds, where historic things have happened. I was really moved by the whole experience. I have to say, it is a great party for kids, a truly wonderful event.”
As Virginians face a decision on the Marshall-Newman Amendment in this November’s election, Chrisler said it is crucial for LGBT parents to be visible in the fight to defeat it.
“Parents are parents first, so they are dealing with all the same things that parents deal with—busy schedules, car pools, schools, play dates, birthday parties, sleep overs, etc.,” said Chrisler. “One of the great things about LGBT parents is that we operate in a lot of environments where we have access to a lot of heterosexual parents and lots of heterosexual people who know our children and who have an opportunity to see our families in action.
“If we take that one extra step and say, ‘I don’t have the same things you do and I can’t protect my family in the same way. That makes it harder for me and for my kids. I need you to understand that and I need you to help do something about that.’ It is a great, powerful thing that we as parents can do to move this civil rights battle forward.”
Chrisler said in-depth polling and analysis of voters has shown that if people opposed to marriage and family equality get to know three or more people who speak from personal experience about discrimination, they are likely to change their views on these social justice issues.
“If we can show our real families and our real lives and give people real facts, it is the most powerful way that we can overcome prejudice,” she noted. “LGBT parents are really uniquely situated to do that.”
Family Pride has a program called OUTSpoken Families, where they teach LGBT parents how to tell their own personal stories in the context of civil rights. Participants in the OUTSpoken program are trained and then make commitments to actively go into their communities and share their stories. “So we can start to change hearts and minds at a very personal level,” said Chrisler.
For more information, people can visit the Family Pride Web site at www.familypride.org or phone 202-331-5015. Chrisler also suggested contacting Equality Virginia for local resources such as gay parent groups. In terms of resources right in NoVa, she mentioned the Arlington Gay & Lesbian Alliance Family program, www.agla.org/family.html.
One of the things Family Pride has focused on the past few years is gathering empirical data about LGBT headed families. Oct. 27-29, they will host Act OUT: the National LGBT Family Conference in Dallas, Texas. The three-day event will focus on advocacy, education and community building for LGBT-headed families and their allies. Research and information will be presented that has been gathered since Family Pride’s Academic Symposium this past May in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania. Evidence overwhelmingly shows that children raised in LGBT-headed houses turn out the same as those reared in straight households. There will be discussions about how to spread that message.
“That ally voice, the non-gay voice out there pounding the pavement doing this work, is really what we’re going to need,” she said. “As gay parents, we can access those people in pretty significant ways, because we are interacting with them at our kids’ schools, on the playgrounds and in our faith communities. It’s one of the reasons I think the parenting voice is so powerful.”