Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Deck the Halls and Queer Up the Family Tree

(Link) Because the Nuclear Family (tm) is not the norm, a Canadian Queer Parenting Initiative makes a family tree for the rest of us -- and the posters are selling like hotcakes.

1 comment:

LNewsEditor said...

JIC Post:
By Victoria Ahearn
Canadian Press

TORONTO (CP) - At first glance, the family tree posters dotted along the main hallway of the City View Alternative School just seem more colourful and artistic than the conventional genealogical diagram.

They depict a large tree with green leaves, colourful ribbons at the roots and adults and children of different skin tones embracing each other and swinging from the branches. Across the bottom of the poster runs the slogan "Who's in Your Family Tree?"

It's only upon closer inspection that one can see the real difference: this family tree has no names, just words - heterosexual, bisexual, queer, lesbian, straight, intersex, transgender, questioning, gay, transsexual and two-spirit.

"We called the project Queering the Family Tree because we wanted to broaden the notions of what a family tree can look like and what families can look like," said Rachel Epstein, member of the Queer Parenting Initiative, as the poster was launched in the Toronto senior elementary school.

"Most families actually don't look like that traditional model of mom, dad and kids, so there are our families and lots of other families that don't fit."

Epstein, a lesbian mother, and the rest of the Queer Parenting Initiative were motivated to make the poster after hearing stories of children of diverse family structures becoming uncomfortable when making their family tree in school - something that's required under the Grade 2 Ontario curriculum.

"The story that often I tell is one that happened in my daughter's class," said Epstein in a speech to a gymnasium full of children and parents, many of them gay.

"They were doing family tree exercises and the kid of a lesbian put up her hand and said, 'What if you don't have a dad?' and the teacher said, 'Of course you have a dad, everybody has a dad,' and the kid said, 'Well, what if you don't have a dad?' and the teacher said, 'What, were you born in a jar?' and the kid was hurt."

The Queer Parenting Initiative - a joint project of several community groups - designed the poster over about two years using a grant from the Lesbian and Gay Community Appeal foundation.

With 10,000 copies now printed, the group hopes the posters will be put up in schools, daycare centres, libraries, community centres and other public spaces across Canada.

"We've gotten orders from Vancouver, from Cape Breton, from Halifax, from Winnipeg, from all across the country," said Epstein, whose 13-year-old daughter attends the school where the poster was launched.

Sadie Epstein-Fine says her teachers "love" the poster, and her friends "have always been really, really supportive of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) issues."

"Our school is already very, very supportive so we don't really need the posters in a way because everybody's already so informed," added the Grade 8 student.

But her mother surmised, "not every school would be as welcoming of something like this," and Tim McCaskell, long-time equity activist at the Toronto District School Board, agreed.

"What I think we see here today is another community initiative that has come out of a lot of struggle, a lot of patience ... and it's just beginning," said McCaskell, recent author of Race to Equity: Disrupting Educational Inequality, in a speech to the crowd.

"We now have 10,000 copies of this poster, but getting them up in schools across the country will still be an amazing challenge. And then there will be all those trickle-down challenges ... all the conversations they're going to produce, the opposition and resistance they're going to produce, the arguments that we're going to have to have, the allies that we're going to have to look for."

The Queer Parenting Initiative is now trying to raise $800 to put together a French version of the poster, which Epstein said is intended for anyone of a diverse family structure - not just gay families and their children.

"We just really wanted to broaden how people see family and just make a really kind of welcoming and comfortable space for kids wherever these posters are put up so that they see themselves reflected," she said.

"We don't fit those forms and our kids don't fit the family tree forms and so we wanted to create a really colourful, celebratory, beautiful poster ... and we ask the question, 'Who's in your family tree?' and really leave it open for people to define."