Founded in 2004, Family Services Ottawa’s Around the Rainbow (ATR) program aims to redefine the traditional concept of the Canadian family.
ATR was originally focused on children under the age of six from queer and trans families, but community developer Beck Hood, who joined ATR in September, says that in the last few years ATR has branched out to train service providers to better serve “LGBTQIA” families and offer toolkits for parents and educators and counselling for individuals and couples over the age of 18.
Hood says the ATR rainbow continues to adapt to reflect the ever-changing face of queer and trans families.
“That’s one of the big things that is shifting,” he says. “When I say family, that’s a whole broad spectrum, whether that is a biological family, a chosen family, someone who is a close friend, a partner, a lover, someone you are dating or multiple people you are dating and what does that look like.”
Barriers remain for many queer and trans families, Hood says, and anyone who accesses social services is exposed to preconceived notions of what a family is.
“When you go into a public space, does the form say Mom and Dad?” he asks. “Does it refer to two gendered partners? Does it refer to two partners and not three or more poly families?”
Society needs to move toward “fluid diversity” when thinking about what a family is, he says.
He acknowledges that last month around Mother’s Day, some mainstream media outlets referenced queer families, but he says it seemed as if it was a “tag-on.”
“We’ve moved to being where there was erasure before, where it was invisible, to now being a tag-on, and that is better but it’s not the final space,” he says. “[We need to be] . . . in a safe and inclusive space for everybody.”
The majority of Hood’s work involves training service providers, from school administrators to healthcare workers, and he says the biggest myth ATR must nullify is that sexual orientation and gender identity are one and the same.
Hood himself is in the early stages of transitioning and says many service providers confuse sexual orientation and gender identity, as they fall under the same acronym.
“They are two very separate and distinctive things,” he says.
Other myths ATR grapples with on a daily basis, Hood says, are the preconceived notion that the only option for queer and trans families to start families is adoption or surrogacy and the longevity of queer relationships.
He says some of his trainees are “surprised” to learn queer and trans families are similar to their own.
“LGBTQIA people in our community are having loving, amazing, inclusive families that are long-lasting, sustaining and beautiful. Even though we all know that,” he says.
Following this realization, the next question that usually comes up is how being a part of a queer or trans family will affect the children, a question that is based on society’s projections onto children in these families, Hood says.
“It’s always about if you are an LGBTQIA parent, then that’s going to have an effect on the children. And it can, but it’s not the LGBTQIA parents. That’s society as a whole. It’s a larger systemic thing. So making that differentiation between saying, actually, it’s the conversation we’re having right now where you are thinking that it’s the parents when really it’s the outside perspectives. They are projecting onto the kids that it would be an issue.”
Initially funded by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, ATR currently receives funding through the Counselling Foundation of Canada, says Laurie Rektor, community programs director at Family Services Ottawa, although the organization is currently seeking additional funding through private donors and actively writing grant applications, Hood adds.
ATR hosted a Parent’s Day June 1 where queer and trans families could mingle, create art and garden at the Jack Purcell Arena.
For Hood, the event was particularly gratifying.
“[Parent’s Day was] . . . really special because it’s about doing community outreach to my family and to our community.”
To learn more about ATR, visit its official site.