A place to feel nor­mal

GA Voice - - Outspoken -

Toni­qua Ward searched and searched for a sup­port group of LGBT par­ents in the At­lanta area. She found plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties for sin­gles, cou­ples and youths, but none was ex­actly what she was look­ing for. So she cre­ated her own. Ward launched the At­lanta LGBT Fam­i­lies Meetup on April 22, and has big plans for how the group will evolve.

“A lot of peo­ple re­ally wanted the idea,” Ward said. “Ev­ery­thing hap­pened so fast, but I’m glad that it hap­pened. I’m glad that a lot of peo­ple are want­ing to join. We’re con­nect­ing to a lot of LGBT fam­i­lies. We have a lot of peo­ple who don’t have kids, who maybe just got mar­ried, who want to come in and sit in and see what it’s like to have kids.”

The group will meet twice a month. One meet­ing will be for par­ents, and one more of a fam­ily out­ing — in­clud­ing hope­fully a Dis­ney cruise as the group grows. With so many types of par­ents and ages of chil­dren rep­re­sented in the mem­ber­ship al­ready, Ward thinks there will be plenty to do and to talk about.

Meet­ing with like minds

Ward and her part­ner, Japera Fer­rell, live in Grif­fin with Fer­rell’s two daugh­ters from a pre­vi­ous mar­riage, Jayde and Ayumi An­der­son.

“When I met my girl­friend, the kids were prob­a­bly about 6 or 7,” Ward said. “They were real quiet at first, but over time they got used to me and now they call me ‘mom.’ Their dad is present in their lives … I have a good re­la­tion­ship with him as well.”

Jayde and Ayumi’s fa­ther is also gay — he and Fer­rell came out to one an­other, some­thing Ward said they all laugh about. She said the girls don’t fully un­der­stand the pur­pose of the group, which is or­ga­nized through the Meetup so­cial me­dia web­site, but are ex­cited to meet with chil­dren who also have LGBT par­ents.

Though the Meetup group will be the only such fam­ily group in At­lanta, other ar­eas around the coun­try have had LGBT fam­ily sup­port groups for decades.

“The no­tion of fam­ily re­mains fairly nu­clear and het­ero­sex­ual, even though that type of fam­ily is the mi­nor­ity of the to­tal fam­i­lies in Amer­ica,” said Polly Pa­gen­hart, di­rec­tor of pol­icy and com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the San Fran­cisco, Cal­i­for­nia-based Our Fam­ily Coali­tion. “Twenty per­cent of Amer­i­can fam­i­lies are a man, a woman; they both bi­o­log­i­cally are re­spon­si­ble for the child and no one is di­vorced or blended from a pre­vi­ous cou­pling.”

That no­tion means “there’s just not any vis­i­bil­ity for queer fam­i­lies,” said Pa­gen­hart, who uses they/them/their pro­nouns.

“It’s re­ally hard to find a place where you can be a queer par­ent or a queer care­giver around oth­ers who un­der­stand,” they said. “Most peo­ple will as­sume any­one hold­ing a child is straight. If you’re not with your part­ner and not lip-locked, you’re go­ing to be pre­sumed as straight more of­ten than you’d like.”

Our Fam­ily Coali­tion hosts a num­ber of Toni­qua Ward (front, left) launched the At­lanta LGBT Fam­i­lies Meetup for fam­ily units like hers to net­work and so­cial­ize. Ward, pic­tured here at the Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia-Grif­fin cam­pus re­search and ed­u­ca­tion gar­dens, lives with her blended fam­ily of girl­friend Japera Fer­rell and Fer­rell’s two daugh­ters, Ayumi and Jayde An­der­son. (Photo by Dal­las Anne Dun­can) work­shops and events for par­ents, and child­care is al­ways pro­vided. The or­ga­ni­za­tion also puts to­gether op­por­tu­ni­ties for fam­i­lies to gather to­gether, and Pa­gen­hart said Ward’s de­sire to do the same is spot-on.

“Our kids re­ally need to see their fam­i­lies re­flected in the pub­lic sphere around them, and not just in the pri­vate sphere around their home,” Pa­gen­hart said. “For our kids … it’s re­ally go­ing to be big for them to be at the zoo, this com­pletely or­di­nary place, to see those two dads — and they have two dads.”

That was the ex­act thing that in­spired Ward to form the Meetup af­ter her on­go­ing search for an ex­ist­ing fam­ily group.

“We went to the mall one day and [Ayumi]

By DAL­LAS ANNE DUN­CAN

saw a les­bian cou­ple. She was like, ‘Look, you’re not the only ones!’ I know they would feel more com­fort­able be­ing around kids that have two par­ents that are the same sex. They could talk to them and get com­fort­able,” Ward said.

Pa­gen­hart said they ap­plaud Ward for de­vel­op­ing the Meetup. They called it a “huge ser­vice” to the metro At­lanta com­mu­nity, and a great way to pave the way for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

“Hav­ing two par­ents of the same sex isn’t what so­ci­ety thinks is nor­mal. Be­cause it’s not ‘nor­mal,’ a lot of kids may feel like they’re dif­fer­ent. They may feel like they’re get­ting teased,” Ward said. “We need to be amongst each other so the kids know there’s noth­ing dif­fer­ent, just be­cause you have two moms or two dads or your mom or dad may be trans­gen­der. It doesn’t mat­ter. You’re still loved, and can’t no one else take that from you.”

—Polly Pa­gen­hart, di­rec­tor of pol­icy and com­mu­ni­ca­tions for Our Fam­ily Coali­tion, on the im­por­tance of LGBT fam­ily sup­port groups

April 28, 2017

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