FERNDALE – Growing up, Lea Brown wasn’t apt to tell people that she was the daughter of a lesbian.
“No 13 year old wants their parents to have anything about them that is different,” she says. “I didn’t want to draw attention to it.”
But as she got older, Brown realized the comfort and positive reinforcement that could come from meeting others in her situation. “It wasn’t until I did an internship at COLAGE (Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere) in San Francisco that I really started to get excited and feel good about talking my family,” she shares. “It was such an amazing atmosphere at Colage. It has shaped who I am and what my life is about.”
Brown interned for two and a half months before coming back to Ferndale and taking the position of social and activities coordinator at Affirmations. In addition to administering several programs at the community center, Brown has decided to start the metro Detroit chapter of COLAGE so that young people in the community can share in the experience of LGBT families becoming friends.
COLAGE is a national group with local chapters throughout the U.S., as well as in Canada, Sweden and England. The organization’s mission is to build a community of youth and adults with one or more LGBT parents, and to work toward equality and acceptance of their families.
The southeast Michigan group had its first meeting at Affirmations on Saturday, Jan. 16, which included a potluck dinner, activities for the kids and a discussion about the difficulties of being a gay parent.
Over a dozen youngsters, mostly ages 6-12, enjoyed making a poster with crayon drawings of their diverse families. “I made my family with a rainbow,” said one little boy whose parents wished him to remain unidentified. “We like rainbows.” Another drew all three of his mommys and one daddy. They also spent time decorating cookies and getting to know each other.
“COLAGE can offer whatever kinds of activities the community needs,” said Brown. “There are some COLAGE groups with older kids that like to go out bowling, some groups that do things like go to the zoo or have parties, and there are groups of COLAGE that are kids in their 20s who meet and go to the bar. Every COLAGE group is different.”
Brown set up the potluck to see what ages of children might come to such a group, and took time at the meeting to talk with parents about their needs.
In general, parents said they found it hard to find other gay-parent families with children the same age as theirs. “We don’t know anybody else,” said Janie Lara. She and partner Sarah Gesch said that raising their 12-year-old son Miles wasn’t too difficult until he entered middle school. “This year has been the most challenging,” Lara said. “This is the age everybody is defining themselves, and children are really judgmental of each other. It’s hard.” The couple hopes that by joining a group like COLAGE it will help Miles make friends that have the same kinds of problems as him, so that he has other people to open up to.
“There are others of us, but they don’t all live in this area. My kids are the old gay family that I know about in our school district,” said Lisa Malburg, a mother from Monroe Township.
Chapter leader Brown said that as a COLAGE intern she was able to watch how children of gay parents interacted and grew at summer camp. “At first the kids are angry and don’t want to be there,” she says. “But as they open up to each other you can see it. Someone says they’ve had an experience – like being bullied at school – and other kids relate to it and they naturally start to talk about it.”
Parents also had concerns with how to deal with bullying at school, knowing how open they should encourage their children to be, how much to tell the schools about their home life, and how LGBT parents feel pressured to raise good children.
“It feels like there are people just waiting for us to mess up, so they can say gay parenting is bad,” said one young mother. “It is a lot of pressure.”
As the metro Detroit COLAGE chapter grows, Brown will be contacting parents to find out how often they would like to meet, and what types of activities they would like to have.
For more information about the newly forming metro Detroit COLAGE group, contact Affirmations Social Activities Coordinator Lea Brown at 248-398-7105 or by e-mail at [email protected]