Columbus, Ohio, celebrates over 33 years of pride with its Pride Celebration this year. This is an amazing feat and testimony to the tireless work of the LGBTQA community here. I personally have volunteered for about 29 of those 33 years, serving as chair/co-chair of the Family Pride Area in the park for the last 11 of those years. My daughter was only six months old the first time we slathered her in sunscreen and the cutest floppy hat that has ever overwhelmed the tiny body underneath it.
I volunteered that year for two reasons: One, a friend of mine had been the in charge of creating a make-shift “family fun area,” but she moved out of state. Two, having a child really drove home for me how little “Pridefest“ planning was done with families in mind. In fact at that time, circa 2003/2004, Midwestern conversations about gays welcoming children intentionally into their festivities quickly deteriorated into fears about being accused of “recruiting,” fodder for custody battles, and concerns about safety issues as to whether we’d be able to keep the children safe from the pedophiles (seriously, these were the things we were saying about ourselves). Last, but certainly not least, it led to people wondering if putting financial effort toward what was thought to be a microscopic subset of the community was warranted? Shocking? Think about it: The majority of queer leadership consisted of single gays and lesbians looking to garner power in business with focus on the national “gay political agenda. ”Outside of AIDS/HIV work lesbians and gays rarely mixed. Seemingly, mimicking their straight counterparts, the women, i.e. lesbians, had the kids, as well as less than disposable incomes to support “community initiatives.” Therefore they were less noticeable or deemed as insignificant to the cause. Even among the lesbians, directly planning for moms and kids was an “oh yea -sigh- “after thought. There was also the fact that Gay Pride was an urban/city thing so recognizing our rural/small town folks who often have children was not on the radar, either.
For the community at large the concept of legalized gay marriage and what that would look like beyond a well-dressed, highly successful, power couple with pearly white teeth was still in a fictional bubble. I wanted to change all that and, with the help of a few other really determined parents/family inclusive friends, we began to advocate in the planning stages of Pride for families and youth. About 6 years into that work we received our first cold hard cash ‘pre-event’ donation which pushed our budget to $1500, landed a partnership with Local Matters (the fresh food art table), and got permission to host an amplified stage.
Today the Family and Youth Pride Area is on the map, in the brochure, and still on a tiny budget (Hint: Check, please). It boasts two bounce houses, a dress up area, sand boxes, large motor games, crafts , snacks, a baby changing station, and more. It has come a long way from 12-16 kids (there was a set of sextuplets), a bunch of balloons , a couple cases of water, borrowed toys, and two harried moms doing face-painting. Last year a whopping 560+ youth and their families visited the area. Pretty amazing turn out for a “subset,” eh? I do wonder if as the face of same-sex parent families change (two daddies are all the rage now) the YFPA will experience a financial or sponsorship windfall. I dream of a youth and family 5k run, a national headliner for the stage, arcade games for the tweens, and big giveaways like Rosie O’Donnell would do if she lived in Columbus. Who knows? As a queer parent I can say I’m proud and blessed by what we do have. I’ll see you in the park!