We’re back from Family Week 2014 in Provincetown, MA. There are any number of details I could tell you about the week (awesome: Leigh biking totally on her own all over town not awesome: mosquitos), but what I want to write about here is COLAGE.
Family Week is a joint venture between COLAGE, a non-profit organization run by and for children with one or more gay, lesbian, bi, trans or queer parent, and Family Equality, an advocacy organization for LGBT-headed families. I don’t know the entire history, but in the past these two organizations have sometimes collaborated closely at Family Week itself, and sometimes had a more distant relationship.
As Gail wrote earlier, we had been to Family Week before, and while we enjoyed some of the Family Equality programming for younger kids, we were motivated to go back in particular so Leigh could participate in COLAGE programming, which starts at age 8. We had been impressed with them as an organization before, but we also knew that Leigh was now heading into COLAGE camp as likely one of very few kids with a trans parent, and we weren’t really sure how that would go. I can say now, after interacting with them much more closely for this week, and leaving Leigh in their care, that this confidence was well placed. I now have an even bigger organizational crush on COLAGE than I did before. Here is why I love them even more now:
1) They are serious about building space that is by and for kids-of-queers. They work actively with the kids to tell their OWN story, to understand their own identities, to build a just world, and work to empower them to make changes (about more than Trans and GLBQ related issues).
2) We saw first-hand the ways that they build community among their members. The volunteers and staffers who were there as counselors interacted even with much younger COLAGErs in such open and affirming ways. I felt so much warmth and inclusion from all of them towards our kids, even Ira, who was too young to actually be in their official scope. This warmth came to us, too, as parents, but their focus was on building affirming, empowering and supportive spaces for our kids. I felt so grateful for this. In conversations with some of the organizers, and in the “variety show” they put on at the end of the week, we could see so clearly that they were supporting our kids as whole people, with many aspects to their identities and lives.
3) COLAGE facilitates important conversations, even if those conversations might be hard. In all of the Family Week programming, COLAGE was the organization directly addressing issues of race and racism, for both parents and kids, for both people of color and white people. I was so happy to see them holding space of their own for both parents and kids of color to get support and share resources, and that they were directly teaching white ally skills in their programming for the kids. They also hosted conversations for kids about donor conception, step parenting relationships and divorce. These topics are going to be central in the lives of some COLAGErs but might not always be the topics that “play well” in public, where kids with GLBTQ parents are under a lot of scrutiny. I’m glad to see COLAGE talking about them anyway.
4) Leigh was, indeed, to the best of our knowledge, the only child of a trans parent in her age cohort (there was at least one more in an older group, and it’s of course possible there was another parent in her group who was not out to us). We very carefully did not ask her about pretty much anything that happened at COLAGE (we feel seriously that it’s her space**), but we saw markers of her comfort there growing throughout the week. We also know that they did direct teaching for all of the kids about gender and transgender issues. Even though she was the “only one,” the fact that they offered this teaching and discussion says to us that the organization is watching out for her, and for other kids like her, and that she won’t have to do all the explaining herself. They are building a community of peers for her that really will understand her family. That sort of institutional backing is so important, and makes me feel confident encouraging other trans parents to trust COLAGE with their kids, and to trust that COLAGE has every intent of including them as full members of the community, and offering the institutional supports for them to truly belong.
5) In all of the Family Week programming, the only real content on transgender issues for parents was offered by COLAGE. They ran a Trans 101 workshop for parents (this is the first year they offered it) that was well attended and well run. The fact that this was the only real content of this type overall in all of Family Week is a problem. The fact that COLAGE was willing to fill in the gap makes me love them even more.
Seriously, if you are a Trans, Gay, Lesbian, Bi or Queer parent, or you have a kid who has such a parent, consider getting them to COLAGE in some form if it is at all possible. Because Provincetown is so expensive, Family Week is not accessible to everyone (we live relatively locally, and have to camp in order to be able to go), but I know the organization as a whole is working on being more accessible nationwide, with local chapters and additional events (including a Boston Chapter). Even if you live in an environment that is overall affirming of your family, and where your child has peers in similar shoes, I firmly believe that the kind of community COLAGE is building, and the kinds of conversations they are facilitating, are hugely beneficial. It’s one thing to know that some other kid in your neighborhood has a family like yours. It’s another thing entirely to have your own space, with your own peers and mentors, and real community there with you as you explore and solidify your own individual story and identity.
So, all of this is to say, Thank you COLAGE. Thanks for really listening to kids with queer, trans and GLB parents. Thanks for having our own kid’s back. Thanks for doing your part to push the GLBTQ-family community as a whole to get with the program on important issues. Does all of this sound awesome? Consider donating to support them.
**Although we did not ask Leigh about COLAGE, she told us that she loved it and wants to go again next year (and gave permission for me to say that here). Consider joining us there next year. Leigh will be there for sure, so if it happens your kid has a trans parent, they won’t be the only one.