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Meri Perra blogs about the challenges she and her partner face in trying to raise their girls with feminist values.

You can’t help but think activists like Rachel Epstein have made it that much easier for the rest of us queer parents. Mother of 19-year old Sadie, Epstein parented within a lesbian relationship years before the supports we have today were available. Partly because Epstein hadn’t created them yet.

The current coordinator of the LGBTQ Parenting Network at the Sherbourne Health Centre, Epstein edited the “Who’s Your Daddy?” anthology on queer parenting back in 2009. And that’s just the tip. In 2006, she and her family were part of a Charter challenge about the law, which wouldn’t allow women who had children within same sex relationships to list both mothers on a child’s birth registry. Winning the case meant non-biological moms with children conceived via anonymous sperm donors no longer needed to adopt their own kids in order to have legal recognition.
In 1997, Epstein founded the “Dykes planning Tykes” course with midwife Kathie Duncan. Twelve years later, the course continues, sprouting more and more queer spawn, and the subsequent groups Daddies and Pappas 2B, and Trans Fathers 2B, for queer and trans men interested in parenthood are still going strong.

I spoke to Epstein, about queer parenting, having a near grown child, and Family Pride.

What are you memories of the first Family Pride?

I remember it being exciting that we actually had a space, because for a long time there was no space for queer people with kids to come at Pride. And it was also really exciting that the space was the Church Street Public School, which is so central, so it feels like a nice calm oasis, but it’s also right where the action is so you don’t feel like you are isolated away with your kids.  …
We had forgotten that everyone was going to come with a stroller. And stroller after stroller was rolling in. It was amazing. It was this huge gathering of queer families. And we had to figure out where we were going to put all the strollers. And we had a parking lot for strollers…

All of a sudden you became really aware of how big our communities are. And how many of us are parenting. I think people really welcomed a way to be involved with Pride with their kids. Lots of people brought their kids before but it meant bringing your kids to just be in the crowds and nowhere to go with them.

I feel the events are geared towards younger kids. At that first Family Pride, I guess your daughter was about ten. Do you remember, as one of her moms, what it was like for her?
I think it gets trickier. A lot of the places to go with queer families are really catering to kids zero to six.

My daughter always wanted to go to Pride but did she want to hang out at Family Pride, not always. I think over the years we’ve tried at the Parenting Network and at the 519.
We’ve all been grappling with how do we provide programming for older kids, and I think the Family Pride committee has also been thinking about that. Each year the activities they plan are more and more interesting and varied.

I think they’ve also been thinking about what to do with the older kids, and what can interest them. This year we also partnered with Camp Ten Oaks which is a camp for kids with queer parents and queer kids, so they were there trying to make connections with older kids.

I think they are trying to have a year round presence. It’s something we’re thinking about as well. How do we start to provide meaningful programming for older kids. Because our kids are growing up. And we need to be really thinking of them. Many of them, whether they identify themselves as queer or not, identify as culturally queer and they feel like they belong in our communities and they want a place in our communities. And we have to figure out how to provide that in a way that’s going to make sense for them.

When you were in Vancouver, you meet a group called the Lavender Conception Conspiracy. Can you talk about that?

This would have been in the early eighties. I came to Toronto in ‘86 so it was before then. They were a group of women who would have called themselves lesbians at that point. Who wanted to have kids. And there wasn’t anywhere to go for information. And there were no courses like Dykes planning Tykes. There were no websites. It was grassroots. It was just a group of women getting together to share information, support each other and figure out how they could bring kids into their lives. They called themselves the Lavender Conception Conspiracy.

The beginning of lesbians having kids was really rooted in the women’s health movement. Which is very much about self-help and taking control of our bodies, and taking control of reproductive health. In the late ‘7os  and early ‘80s, many clinics were not giving easy access to lesbians. So you know it wasn’t necessarily easy to access sperm through that medicalized route. It was people finding their own donors, people helping people find their own donors, people carrying sperm for each other. There was this real sense of just doing it for ourselves.

How often do you find yourself reflecting on that time?

I do reflect back on that time. I have a little bit of nostalgia for that time because it was so based on a grassroots politics… There are many things to celebrate.  But I also I fear the institutionalization of us. And what I feel is really important to hang on to are the creative ways to make families. The creative families we make, the fact that we don’t always make families that are two-parent families. Sometimes it’s one, sometimes it’s two, sometimes it’s three, sometimes it’s four. It not easy. It’s not uncomplicated. But I really hope we can maintain that… and not just assume that the family can only look one way.

I imagine you had more struggles raising your daughter in the school system than this next generation will have…

I don’t feel like our experience was so difficult. I think if you were to ask Sadie she’d say yes there was homophobia. She ran into it more at summer camp than she did at school. Stuff happened, but nothing I think that left a huge mark on her. It would be better to talk to her… But school is everyone’s biggest concern. In some schools there is not that much going on because the equity department for the TDSB has been slashed so hugely, so there’s a very small staff doing all that work in a huge school system. So even though there’s this beautiful equity policy in some schools it’s just sitting on a shelf and nobody is really doing anything about it…

I say this over and over again. Kids get teased or harassed at the place where the other kids figure out is the weak point.  Other kids figure out what’s the thing that’s going to get you the most and that’s what they go for. So it’s up to us as parents, the best as we can, to try and figure out the fact of our queer families, which means being prepared to be out, not passing on any sense of shame or secrecy or something wrong with our kids. So they’re not carrying them and then, it’s not going to get them so much.

Meri Perra is a community worker-turned-journalist living in Toronto’s Riverdale neighbourhood with her partner and two daughters

Photo via Meri Perra

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