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Around the Rainbow finds a pot of gold

New funding brightens the colours of local advocacy program

Imagine the feeling that queer parents have when dropping off our children at a childcare centre for the first time knowing that he may be the only child with two mummies or two daddies.

Now imagine a project that breaks down barriers that queer families face in the community. Think of linking educators, service providers and our families together through training, collaborative art projects and interactive workshops. That’s the work of Around the Rainbow.

Around the Rainbow is a community development project, originally started as a three-year pilot program by Family Services Ottawa and Pink Triangle Services. The project’s mission is to create safer spaces for children of queer parents in daycares, schools and the broader community.

“It came out of research done in the Ottawa community identifying some gaps and service needs,” says Laurie Rektor, community program director at Family Services.

Around the Rainbow was initially funded by Human Resources, Skills and Development Canada (HRSDC) — federal dollars that were earmarked for working with children six and younger.

With the help of a city-run community centre, they started a monthly meeting for queer parents called Rainbow Families. Children six and under are looked after by childcare workers and six to 12-year-olds are supervised by programmers in a fun and educational setting. The aim of the program is to create a safe space for the children through games, crafts and activities — a place where they can connect and learn about themselves and from each other.

Other pilot projects included educator-training workshops for service providers, educators and other community leaders. On the recreational side, the project worked with families to create a collaborative art project celebrating family diversity.

When the HRSDC funding ended in September 2008, the fate of Around the Rainbow — and the queer families benefiting from the project — remained uncertain until new funding was found in April 2009. The project will continue thanks to The Counselling Foundation of Ottawa and the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Around the Rainbow is now able to employ a staff person, build a new website and expand the program to serve families with children aged six to 12, an age group that Rektor thinks needs help.

“Generally speaking, kids up to the age of six in any family are quite well protected by whoever the parents [that] are raising them,” says Rektor. “Once you get into the higher grades, all of a sudden your kids are doing more things, and they are exposed to different types of challenges.”

Thanks to Rainbow families, new training materials are being developed to address issues facing older children in educational and recreational settings.

Marnie Potter is the sole employee of Around the Rainbow. On top of directing programming directed at parents who are queer and their kids, Potter is responsible for teaching people who work with children about queer issues. She’s aiming her message at teachers to promote safer environments in educational settings.

“If you embed it [the training material] into the curriculum, it has to be more specific, easy to integrate within the existing curriculum,” says Potter.
The pilot project allowed Around the Rainbow to lay the groundwork. With the new funding, training materials are in the works and Potter is developing programs for schools.

Rektor feels that Around the Rainbow has helped Family Services grow. She’d like to see this kind of programming integrated in all of their work to ensure that queer parents feel queer inclusiveness and understanding.

At the end of this month, Around the Rainbow will be launching a new website,0 which will include tools for queer families. The site will also have a monthly newsletter, event updates, a community bulletin board and links to other resources that will help to connect families and educators.