DOUGLAS – On July 13 the city of Douglas was over run with super heroes. Some wore masks, others wore capes, and most wore sunscreen as the colorful crowd moved through the streets in the scorching summer heat. Adults and children alike waved flags, banged tambourines, and carried signs reading “Love Is Love” and “Equal,” all with two fire trucks and a police car in hot pursuit.
In other words, it was the annual Rainbow Families Great Lakes Family Week Celebration Parade. Dozens of families and groups like West Shore AWARE, Grand Valley State University LGBT Resource Center, and PFLAG marched undeterred by the heat in all of their rainbow glory. It was a fitting way to wrap up six days of fun and family in West Michigan.
A rainbow of parents and children from the Great Lakes region and beyond flock to the area each year to find community with other LGBT parents and their children during RFGL’s Family Week.
Ariel Hoffman attended Family Week with two of his four children. The trio came from Madison, Wisconsin, though Hoffman previously lived in the Detroit area where he and his husband adopted their children. This was Hoffman’s second time attending Family Week and he said he plans to “keep coming until my kids are college age at least.”
“To me, the most important aspect of family week is the connections one makes with other parents,” Hoffman explained. “There’s so much love, compassion and friendship at Family Week that it’s hard to say goodbye to these people at the end of the week.”
First time attendee Andrea Nelson shared Hoffman’s sentiments. Nelson, her wife Shelly, and their three-year-old son Christopher made the trek to Douglas from St. Louis, Missouri. Nelson was struck by “the amazing diversity of the families attending.”
“It was phenomenal to see how many ways families can come together: adoption, fostering, surrogacy, reproductive technology, etc.,” she said. “At the same time, Family Week reinforced our fundamental belief that it is love, and only love, that makes a family.”
While Nelson was drawn to Family Week for the sense of community, her family was seeking out fun, too. According to Nelson, they had plenty of it.
“Christopher had an absolute blast at Family Week. It was not only great for him to see so many families like ours, but the organizers did a phenomenal job planning fun events that would appeal to kids – and adults – of any age.”
Indeed, whether it was climbing the monkey bars at the Douglas Elementary playground, using puffy paint to make personalized capes, splashing in the pool, or dipping t-shirts into buckers of tie-dye, there was plenty to keep kids entertained.
One of the people Nelson and other Family Week attendees can thank for this is Carl Miller, one of nine Saginaw Valley State University social work students serving as the Family Week crew.
“Our role was to help organize crafts and activities for the children, talk to the families and hear their stories, learn about the LGBT community, and generally help out where needed,” Miller said.
With his prominent Superman tattoo and his unabashed love for The Avengers, Miller was a natural fit with Family Week’s Super Hero theme. But the true heroes, Miller said, are the families.
“I was already familiar with LGBTs as individuals, especially being bisexual myself, but did not know anything about how gay and lesbian couples parented and raised their children,” he explained. “I found out it was really no different than anyone else, and perhaps in most cases even better than heterosexual parents because LGBT parents go through a lot more to get their children, and value them so much more.”
Like Hoffman, Miller cites the friendships he’s made as a motivator for wanting to return.
Nelson concurs. “We will definitely be back,” she said. “After the amazing friends we made this year, there is no doubt that this will become an annual event for our family.”
Family Week 2014 will be held July 12-18. For more information visit http://www.rfgl.org.