Making a place for LGBT parents—and their kids—is a priority for nonprofits
Adrien Lawyer and Elena Letourneau are what they refer to as “invisible”—a white, seemingly straight couple with a 6-year-old son.
Lawyer had his breasts removed in 2004. A year later, he began hormone replacement therapy, which deepened his voice and sprouted hair on his face. Lawyer is now legally a man. Once recognized as a lesbian couple, he and his partner have undergone not only a physical but a cultural transformation. They appear to be the all-American family. And that’s exactly what they are.
Lawyer and Letourneau are a perfect example of what makes a family. Genders and dynamics may have changed throughout their 12-year relationship, but what’s remained is their commitment to each other. The common denominator is love.
In many ways, that’s the message of this year’s Pride festivities. While the glam and glory of Prides past remain intact, there are a number of other factors and events this year that honor the concept of family—both on a grander and more intimate scale.
“Families are what we make them,” says Micaela Cadena, Young Women United’s program coordinator. Last year, the social justice group came up with the theme “Love Makes a Family” and built a Pride float to match. “We had such a positive response,” she says, “people saying, Thank you for saying that out loud. Please continue to say it out loud.” YWU is continuing in 2011, Cadena says, by taking the message further.
“The conservative right has staked territory on the language of family,” she adds. “It’s a slap in the face—we’re all families.” She cites a number from the 2000 U.S. Census: Only 22.4 percent of American homes include a married heterosexual couple with children that are biologically theirs. “This means the majority of households in the U.S. do not fit the traditional model of family,” she says. “This is about politically reclaiming that space to say no one out there in the media has the right to determine who families are. We believe families are self-defined.”
To that end, YWU is working with LGBT community members on a family-focused get-together. On Saturday, June 11, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the first annual Family Pride Picnic will take place at Morningside Park. The picnic will be alcohol-free, with live bands, face-painting, pizza and vendor booths. And it’s free.
Collaborators Rebecca Rosales and her partner DeAnna Armijo, along with their friend Debbie Alarcon, came up with the idea. It’s been 13 years since Rosales and Armijo began their relationship. “When we were 22, Pride was something we were excited about,” says Rosales. “As we’re getting older and raising young women ourselves, we’ve found it hard to participate in the event at the fairgrounds.” At first, they only planned on having a small picnic for friends and family. But as they told people about it, they discovered an overwhelming interest and decided to go big. It cost $1,000 to get the required permits and porta-potties for the event, but they’re hoping enough people come and buy pizza and other items to make up for it. Any leftover funds will benefit YWU.
Rosales is clear about one thing, though: They’re not trying to compete with PrideFest, an event they fully support. “The money they raise at Pride is really important, and we want to encourage people to go,” she says. “But this is, Let’s do something for people who can’t afford to go or people who want something nonalcoholic. It’s something completely different.”
Jesse Lopez, president of Albuquerque Pride, also heard the pleas for a more family-friendly environment. For the first time, PrideFest will have a separate, fenced-off family area that’s alcohol- and smoke-free. With four jumpers and eight carnival games, along with arts and crafts and other activities, Lopez says he hopes it will make people feel more comfortable about bringing their kids. Ticket prices for children are also cheaper this year: $5 for kids ages 4 to 10, and free for those 3 and under. “There’s nothing wrong with drinking or partying,” he says, “but if kids are around, we have responsibility for all of that.”
A new wedding ceremony area is another way families are being highlighted. Lopez estimates that about 20 couples get married every year at PrideFest, but in the past it’s been in a little room sectioned off from the public. This year, Lopez says, it’s going to be bigger and better. “Although the governor and the state Legislature have not made it legal for same-sex couples to get married in New Mexico, we still want to honor the love and commitment between two individuals,” Lopez says. To do that, Pride will have a public—but still secluded—outdoor chapel, with altars, an archway, a photographer and wedding cake. Couples will also get a commitment certificate. (Those interested in the free ceremony can register beforehand at abqpride.com or the day of the event.)
Pride’s Main Street will be also smoke-free for the first time, thanks to efforts by the Media Literacy Project’s Fierce Pride. “Tobacco companies spend billions of dollars every year to target marginalized populations,” says Rebecca Dakota, coordinator for Fierce Pride. “And they’re very effective at it.” According to the New Mexico Department of Health, people from the LGBT community are more likely than straight people to smoke. “They see us as low-hanging fruit,” she says. Dakota argues that tobacco companies are aware of a population doesn’t always fit with the mainstream, and they grab ahold of the opportunity to “make them feel better” with nicotine.
Dakota says she hopes that by promoting a smoke-free environment at an event as large as PrideFest, it will “change the cultural norms in the LGBTQ community so that tobacco will no longer have a stranglehold.”
It’s all a part of further enforcing the notion of health and family. Pride President Lopez says he wants to see the sentiment ripple out to affect not only individual families but the larger human family.
“We’re all people. We’re all human. We’re all deserving of God’s love,” he says. “If there’s one word I can say as the president of this organization, it’s unity; that’s the key to equality.” He says that through the “It Gets Better” anti-bullying campaign that’s swept the country, what’s really stayed with him is the idea that people have to stick together. “If we really don’t take care of each other, how can it really get better?” he says. “We need to become one family, one group of people that believes we can love who we are and what we are.”