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2 min

Queer families group looks back, looks ahead

Funding uncertain for flagship program

AT THE PARK. Wendy Ireland, Marika Jemma, event organizer Samantha Hendrikson and Marnie Potter pose at Family Fun Day. Credit: MJ Deschamps

At the front of the gym-like auditorium, a little girl stands on stage, sporting a flowing ankle-length skirt with rainbow stripes. Her T-shirt reads “I was hatched by two chicks.”

Her mother, Tanya Vachonwood, a lesbian parent and advocate, hands her the microphone, and nudges her to go ahead.

“Hi, I’m Olivia, and I have two mommies,” says the girl shyly. The room erupts into cheers.

The Ron Kolbus Lakeside Centre May 15 hosted the Around the Rainbow Family Fun Day, which showcased artwork done by the parents and children of queer families. It included music and a magic show, as well as a series of guest speakers with a link to the gay community.

The event celebrated the past two-and-a-half years of the Around the Rainbow Project, which is now winding to a close.

The three-year initiative, which introduced teaching workshops and community art projects as a way to educate the public about non-traditional families, sent coordinators into daycare centres and schools to talk to staff members about creating more inclusive spaces.

Wendy Ireland is the group’s project coordinator.

“We encourage educators to be more open, and let the kids talk a little more about what it means” to come from a gay family, says Ireland.

“By doing this, the kids can feel more open and validated about the world they live in.”

Sarah Rae, who works a the Pinecrest Early Years Centre, says that while there are many outreach groups for those who identify themselves as queer, Around the Rainbow fills a valuable niche. It provides support for children growing up in a gay family.

The Around the Rainbow Project was funded by Human Resources and Social Development Canada, and sponsored by Family Services Ottawa, but once their project funding runs out in September, the heyday of coordinated efforts to make Ottawa more inclusive for kids in queer families might draw to a close.

Marnie Potter, Community Developer at Family Services says that she is hopeful that the activities of the organization will continue, but does not know how exactly that will happen.

“I think the reality is that we may not be able to continue in the manner of the project’s present incarnation,” says Potter.

“Right now we have a big, strong team onboard, but who knows how that will evolve when money runs out.”

Ireland says that those running the project looked to the Counselling Foundation of Canada and the Ontario Trillium Foundation to continue funding.

“Realistically, this project needs to be funded for another 10 or 15 years,” says Marika Jemma, the Around the Rainbow community artist.

“There are still so many things about the project that need to be evolved and developed and integrated.”

So far, the project has focussed on creating gay-friendly spaces for children ages zero to six, but the coordinators say that if they are financially able to, they want to extend that age category to age 12, and possibly begin doing work in Ottawa high schools as well as those at the elementary level.

Around the Rainbow is currently working towards implementing gay- and trans-specific policies in schools.

“If your school board doesn’t have a queer-specific policy, then that is the same as not having a policy at all,” says Ireland.

Potter says that the project is a necessary one to have in Ottawa, and that it has already made an impact on the community in its three short years.

“When you look at Around the Rainbow, there’s not a lot of projects like this in Ottawa, let alone anywhere else,” she says.

“People are starting to see that we live in a very diverse country, and [our] families are just one other group that we need to start including spaces for.”