Take several-hundred LGBT families from around the country — moms, dads, children young and old and assorted other relatives — add sun, sand, movies and a bonfire, and you’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of what Family Week in Provincetown, Mass. , is all about.
The event, now the largest gathering of LGBT families in the country, had its origins in a grassroots group of gay dads looking to support one another and build their community.
Out of their organizing, in 1979 came the Family Equality Council, first known as the Gay Fathers Coalition (and later expanded to include all LGBT parents). Family Week “started out as some backyard gatherings” of the men in the group, said Brent Wright, director of programs for the FEC. In 1985, it became an “official” weeklong series of events. “Over the years, it’s just continued to gain momentum,” Wright said.
Early years saw mostly families with younger children, but these days, noted Wright, all ages of children (including adults with LGBT parents) attend. Transgender parents are also more common than in earlier years. These changing trends have “driven our programming to reflect those needs and those conversations,” said Wright.
New York resident Brian Sheerin has attended Family Week each of the past eight years with his husband and their two girls, now ages 2 and 9. He called it “my absolute favorite week of the year, and our kids’ too.” All members of the family, he said, have made lasting friendships there.
“Even though we live in an area with other LGBT families, there’s something special about Family Week,” he explained. “It is the only time of the year when we get to be the majority.”
Allison Bauer, who plans to attend this year for the eighth time, agreed. The best thing about Family Week, she said, “is the general feeling of comfort and acceptance that pervades the whole town.”
She first attended Family Week when she lived in Arlington, Va. Although that community was “very progressive,” she said, “there was still the underlying feeling of difference.”
Her 9-year-old twin son and daughter think less about issues of difference and more about being on vacation with their friends, “yet there is a familiarity with this particular week for them ... I can imagine that they also like being around families that look like theirs, but they haven’t articulated that to us.”
Sheerin similarly recalled one incident when one of his daughters met another child during Family Week. She said to the other, “You have two moms? I have two dads.”
“It was just so matter-of-fact,” Sheerin observed.
Wright said that FEC also tries to facilitate conversations among the children. For example, he said, they host a panel of teens they have found during the week “who have really great stories and want to share them.” The panel gives them the chance to do so, and for others to ask questions: How did they handle bullying when they were in school? How did they get teased and how did they respond to that? It also gives parents a chance to talk about how they are able to advocate on their children’s behalf in those settings.”
But not all Family Week programming deals with such heavy topics. Children’s activities include theater, dance and photography workshops — the latter run by a photographer who has gay parents and attended Family Week herself as a child.
FEC is also partnering with Provincetown Rec Center to offer children “a classic summer-camp experience for the week” if they want it.
Families wanting less structure may still want to check out the Toddler Pasta Party, Family Kickball Game or Whale Watch, among other activities.
For adults, rather than the workshops of past years, FEC is hosting a number of “parent café” discussion forums. Wright posed, “You’re on vacation — do you want to sit in a classroom and listen to a presentation?” Instead, the cafés will offer more casual conversation over coffee and food, albeit around various topics related to LGBT parenting and what’s happening in the LGBT movement.
But Family Week is less about explicit activism and more about fun, friendships and community. Bauer said one of her favorite memories of the week is “just looking back up the street at the size of the Family Week Parade as we march through town. It is very inspiring and uplifting.”
Wright urges participants, especially first-timers, to look at the schedule and “lock in their spots early” for events they know they want to attend, as many have limited spaces. He also encourages people to contact the Provincetown Department of Tourism, who are “eager to partner” with LGBT families about lodging and more.
Family Week is July 30-Aug. 6. Find out more and register at familyequality.org/familyweek.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (www.mombian.com), a blog and resource directory for LGBT parents.