Rainbow Families Conference

By Lavender March 28, 2008

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More than 1,000 GLBT parents, their children, extended family, educators, and allies are anticipated to attend the13th annual Rainbow Families Conference on April 12, 8:30 AM-4:30 PM, at the Bryn Mawr/Anwatin schools in Minneapolis. The daylong event is geared toward educating and drawing together the GLBT parenting community. Keynote speaker Urvashi Vaid will highlight the conference. A resource fair and workshops will provide informational material and insight.

Urvashi Vaid. Photo by Don Hamerman

Abby Riskin, Assistant Director of Rainbow Families, notes that the conference always has been educational and community-building, but it recently has expanded to include resources for both educators and allies.

In her third year working with the conference, Riskin has seen the gathering progressively address more and more social justice issues, noticeable this year with the selection of Vaid.

Executive Director of the Arcus Foundation, an organization dedicated in part to securing human rights for the GLBT community, Vaid will speak on the intersection of racial justice, sexual orientation, and gender identity. But her address is only part of a long list of activities at the conference.

Nearly 100 organizations will participate in a resource fair, and more than 50 workshops will address a variety of subjects for attendees. Workshop topics include parenting, creating families, social justice, legal and financial, educators in action, more than an ally, and parents engaging schools.

In keeping with its name, the Rainbow Families Conference also will offer activities for children, including workshops designed by Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere (COLAGE).

“The event is really powerful,” Riskin says, “because you have 1,000 people together, and you can see a lot of families that look like yours. I think the parents we serve, depending on where they live, might not see families like them, so it’s a day to build that community. Wherever they live, it’s really powerful to have that many people together for one day focused on community, learning, and change.”

The conference is but one of the many outreach arms of Rainbow Families, a Minneapolis-based organization founded in 1997 as a nonprofit organization.

According to its Web site, Rainbow Families provides support for more than 2,000 Upper Midwest families through services that include a newsletter, parent education forums, and community events and celebrations such as the conference.

Rainbow Families also helps school districts make their schools safe and welcoming for children with GLBT families, and works to reduce name-calling and bullying. In addition, the organization educates teachers, administrators, and policy makers about various GLBT issues, and advocates for more inclusive teaching material.

“Rainbow Families has been doing work with schools for a long time, but has enhanced that work recently,” Riskin explains. “It came out of a desire to build safe, welcoming, and affirming schools for children with GLBT parents. The focus is on elementary schools, because in elementary schools, there is very little discussion about GLBT families and individuals.

“Our mission is to build a safe, just, and affirming world for GLBT parents and their children. It is a focus to have parents tell their stories, and educate and talk to their neighbors and schools. It is important for families to be out, and it definitely helps in terms of discrimination against GLBT families. When people get to know GLBT families, it becomes hard to fear or hate something you know.”

For more information about Rainbow Families and the conference, visit www.rainbowfamilies.org.

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