For many people, a family is what they choose to make of it. For some, that means a close-knit collection of relatives; for others, it’s a group of friends who are always there when needed.
But in reality, the family has almost always had a clear legal definition that changes slowly with the times and has been changing since the word was formed. From the Latin word “familia” came the Middle English word “familie,” and so forth. The Latin definition of a familia household included everyone who lived in the house, including the servants. Things have changed a bit since then (and not always for the best).
Again, the definition of a family is ready for a permanent change. Since the 1970s, the nuclear family of mother, father, and children has been decreasing. In its place—everything else. And it’s these new definitions that are causing the uproar.
Couples face this problem when trying to explain that they are indeed a family as well as children trying to explain that they don’t have a mommy and daddy, but two mommies or two daddies, or maybe even a daddy who wants to be a mommy. But being seven and attempting to explain the complexities of life is a bit overwhelming—it may even be overwhelming for the adults in these situations—and many times, children are cruel to those who are different. But even there, the problem doesn’t stop. Many laws and rules of our culture still classify the family as two parents of opposite sexes and children, with all of them sharing the same last name.
Hope is out there, though. One of the newest groups is Project 515.
Its goal is a simple one: “to ensure that same sex couples and their families have equal rights and considerations under Minnesota law.” Although newly formed, it doesn’t come ill-equipped to achieve its mission. The board of directors includes a seasoned lobbyist, and members of Together Minnesota, Human Rights Campaign, WATCH, OUT!Law, DIVA Minnesota, PFund, and COLAGE among others.
The name of Project 515 comes from the fact that there are at least 515 laws on the books in Minnesota alone that affect the GLBT community in a negative way. Many of them also impact the GLBT family. With a lobbyist, they hope that that number will go down from 515…fast.
With the new comes the old. Parents, Families, Friends of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered persons, better known as PFLAG, has been around since 1972. It was started by a single mother supporting her gay son who was beaten while protesting for gay rights. A simple line in the New York Post jump-started everything: “My son is a homosexual and I love him.” PFLAG has grown to more than 500 chapters nationwide with more than 200,000 members in the past 35 years.
Though people out there are affecting change, there are ways to ensure that when children are in school, they are safe. Why send a child to a school you don’t feel comfortable with? With Minnesota’s open enrollment laws, parents can choose to send their children to whichever school they wish. They simply fill out a form and ensure transportation, and the school just needs to have an open spot.
Some very easy ways to find a right school district for children:
Check the school district’s Web site.
Many of these Web sites have an abundance of information on GLBT policies. Checking to see if policies explicating speak about GLBT people, or if they have programs addressing diversity, is a good start.
Research the district.
There is no better way to learn about the district’s policies on GLBT students than actually to call a guidance counselor. This is the perfect chance also to ask about what training the staff has received or about GLBT/Straight Alliance clubs the school may have.
Checking out the local paper or asking local GLBT groups is also a good way to know where the district stands as well.
The Osseo school district currently would rank very low, because of its stance on the GLBT group SAGE and the two-year legal battle over equality that seemingly was resolved with victory for SAGE in 2007.
Create a network of community allies.
Even if all else fails, you have no reason to think no one is there to help you and your family. It is simply a matter of finding those like you. Web sites for PLAG or other GLBT groups will usually include links to local groups looking for the exact same thing you are.
Build on the positive efforts already underway.
Students are always onestep ahead of adults. When you’re just thinking of starting a group within the school, they will already have started and had the first meeting. Helping them build it up and supporting them can be a great way to expand it and get involved.
Though these are just some ideas on how to make GLBT family life easier, there are always other ways to get involved. Groups like Project 515 and PFLAG that strive for change at every level. They, and every other person or group who take a stand, makes a change in society.