How LGBT Families and Allies Can Create Safe, Welcoming Communities
June 20, 2014
LGBT families face hostility in various settings—professional, recreational, and social. Michael Shelton wrote Family Pride: What LGBT Families Should Know about Navigating Home, School, and Safety in Their Neighborhoods as a resource for queer parents, their families, and allies that emphasizes community safety. Drawing on his years as a dedicated community activist and on the experiences of LGBT parents, Shelton put together a few concrete strategies culled from his book that LGBT families can use to intervene in and resolve difficult community issues, teach their children resiliency skills, and find safe and respectful programs for them.
What can LGBT families do when relocation to a more
welcoming community is not possible?
Build a support system. Make contact with other LGBT families, even if they are not in the immediate community and cultivate straight allies who will fight on your behalf. This also includes seeking out affirmative community resources, including changing to a more welcoming religious denomination, working with affirmative medical and mental health providers, and transferring to a school that welcomes all students and their families.
Create a safe family environment. The more unwelcoming the local community, the safer the sanctuary of the family must be, particularly for children. Families should foster a climate that discusses family concerns related to their LGBT status, work to resolve problems common to many families (e.g., substance abuse, domestic abuse) and seek out professional help to deal with shame and internalized homophobia.
Prepare Children for Anti-LGBT challenges. Abigail Garner, author of Families Like Mine, wrote that children of gay parents inevitably discover that hate is directed at their families from the outside world. Parents should prepare children for these occurrences.
Prepare for emergencies. All LGBT families should have advance health care directives, durable powers of attorney for healthcare (also known as a health-care proxy), and consents for treatment that allow a non-biological parent to give consent for a child’s emergency medical treatment.
Know the law. Familiarize yourself with the local, state, and federal laws and how they impact LGBTs and their families.
What can allies do to support LGBT families?
Create welcoming organizations in our schools, religious institutions, medical and mental health treatment centers, and law enforcement.
Educate professionals and the public about the existence of LGBT families (particularly the racial and economic diversity of these families) and offer resources to LGBT families.
Support research on LGBT families.
Support policy change at the local, state, and national levels that allow all children to create legal bonds with parents (regardless of their parents’ sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status) and provide diverse families with equal access to government-based economic protections and programs.
Be inclusive by challenging hurtful and negative comments and defending LGBT families against discrimination. This also requires awareness of and confronting our own prejudices.
The author of five books, Michael Shelton is the director of sexual-minority treatment services and works with same-sex families at Equilibria Psychological Consultants in Philadelphia. He is also the residential director for Mountain Meadow, one of two summer camp programs in the United States for the children of same-sex parents. He lives in Philadelphia.