By Sarah Mieras
GRAND RAPIDS – A national training aimed at changing the image of LGBT families one story at a time swept through Michigan last week. Notably the smallest of the trainings, nine people attended the Saturday April 28 in Grand Rapids. Attendants included parents and activists from West Michigan, Lansing and the Detroit metro area.
Organized by the DC based Family Pride, the “OUTSpoken” trainings aim to prepare LGBT families to tell their stories to anyone who will listen including friends, family, doctors, school officials, and legislators.
“Speaking in groups, like at the training, can make people recognize powerful aspects of their personal stories,” explained “OUTSpoken” trainer Lisa Bahr.
Seated in a small circle of other parents, Dennis Patrick of Ypsilanti shared his “story.”
“I always wanted to be a parent, but naively thought being gay meant not being a parent.”
Today, Patrick and his partner have adopted four children and have sheltered countless others through the foster care system.
“We have a tradition in our house called Gotcha Day, where we celebrate the day each child came into our family. It’s like having an extra birthday,” said Patrick.
Being a gay parent said Patrick comes with many joys and challenges.
“I didn’t realize that you would constantly have to out yourself.”
The trainings provide a space and a voice to many kinds of LGBT families, including those in crisis. Break-ups, custody battles and divorce are difficult for any family, but for LGBT families they can be a devastating journey through uncharted legal waters.
Marie Wolfe of Lansing attended the training hoping to find a way to tell her story that could help change Michigan’s laws. An Assistant Prosecutor in Ingham County, Wolfe thought she had protected her family legally. Like many couples, after her partner of five years gave birth to twins the couple went through the second parent adoption process in Washtenaw County.
After a break-up though, Wolfe claims has been denied custody to her children and took the matter to court.
“Instead of looking at the custody decision, the judge we drew indicated that the adoption wasn’t proper in the first place,” said Wolfe. “That left me with no rights to my children”
Today, Wolfe is still fighting for custody, or even visitation rights. Learning how to articulate her story at the training she said is critical to changing the way LGBT families are treated in Michigan.
“The proposed second parent adoption law (Judiciary Hearing slated for May 2) needs to have a retroactive clause so that the rights of people like me are recognized,” said Wolfe.
Regardless of the family’s situation, whether in crisis or happy, Bahr stated that one thing connects everyone who attends the trainings across the country, “All of their stories really boil down to one thing, their Constitutional rights aren’t being recognized.”
The trainings last week serve as a springboard for other Family Pride events throughout Michigan. Other upcoming events include the Saugatuck Family Week July 7 through 13. For more information visit www.rfgl.org or www.familypride.org.