Family Reunion: Rainbow Families Conference Centers on Life, Love, and Laughter

By Lavender March 26, 2009
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Abby Riskin’s duties as Family Outreach and Education Manager of Rainbow Families require her to blend popular perception with popular reality.

As Riskin observes, “GLBT people have always been parents, but more and more young GLBT adults are starting out their lives thinking about and planning for families from the start. The demographics of our community are shifting in that regard. Roughly 20 percent of gay men and 33 percent of lesbians are raising children. Family issues are GLBT issues. When all kinds of families are supported, the community becomes stronger and more vibrant, as each of its parts moves more strongly through the world.”
That support can arrive in many forms, but one of the most stylized originates from Rainbow Families, an organization that provides programs for local GLBT families and allies, as well as battling for family equality on the political front. Many families observe annual traditions of one stripe or another, and Rainbow Families is no exception. Annually, it hosts the Rainbow Families Conference, which takes place this year on April 18.

Indeed, according to Riskin, “The Rainbow Families Conference is the largest educational gathering of GLBT families and their allies in the country. The conference schedule is jam-packed with workshops and opportunities to connect with friends, old and new. Educators come to learn how to be more inclusive of GLBT families in schools. We have an extensive resource fair with area vendors and supportive organizations. Our community gathering is fantastic!”

Whatever fantastic-ness is intrinsic to the conference is the result of hard-won experience, as this is its 14th annual manifestation…but this year also signals a genesis of sorts.

Riskin explains, “This is the first year that the Rainbow Families Conference is being produced by Family Equality Council, the national organization working to ensure equality for GLBT families. So, attendees will hear and see more about Family Equality Council than in years past, but they will also experience the benefits of having such a strong organization with great local presence produce this one-of-a-kind event.”

A conference by definition includes, y’know, conferring, and this year’s capstone is provided by keynote speaker Mandy Carter, a variegated activist and (oh, by the way) a Nobel Prize nominee.

Riskin points out, “Mandy Carter’s life’s work is a testament to the possibilities of addressing multiple oppressions. Mandy was also raised in two orphanages, and was a ward of the State of New York until she turned 18. She brings a unique and important perspective to the fight for family equality.”

The conference is no whiny victim-off—its theme is empowerment, and that begins with the next generation.
As Riskin predicts, “Family Equality Council’s children’s programming at the Rainbow Families Conference will engage children and youth in fun, educational, and empowering activities that encourage connections, leadership, and pride in their identity as children of GLBT parents.”

The conference revolves around a core whose theme is more basic even than family.

Riskin insists, “There’s no one definition of what ‘makes’ a family. The problem we face today in laws and society is that, typically speaking, one definition of a family is being used to value or devalue a great diversity of family types. Personally, I hope that families are groups of people that love and support one another.”

14th Annual Rainbow Families Conference / Apr. 18 / Anwatin/Bryn Mawr Schools, 256 Upton Ave. S., Mpls. / www.familyequality.org/conference

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