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At Gayby Baby screening, focus on LGBTQ families
by Liz Baudler

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When Maya Newell, the director of the new documentary Gayby Baby, saw the 2010 movie The Kids Are Alright, it was the first time in 23 years she'd ever seen her family on the big screen. "Gayby Baby came from wanting to give voice to kids from families like mine," said Newell, an Australian filmmaker with lesbian parents. She recorded a special video message for the screening for the Chicago-area screening of Gayby Baby, held at Kinoworks April 30.

"This is a film about our families," said Theresa Volpe, from the board of directors for One Million Kids for Equality and the event's organizer. In her introduction, Volpe thanked the Wachowski sisters, Lana and Lilly, for letting their space be used for the viewing.

LGBTQ family advocate Zach Wahls also recorded a message for the screening. Wahls reminded the audience that they were not alone, and remembered feeling like he had to lie about his family or use anti-gay slurs to fit in with his peers. He advised kids that they didn't have to answer every question about their family. "Your family is your family," Wahls said.

Volpe convened a children's panel to discuss responses to the film and issues their families faced. Ava Santos-Volpe, Volpe's 11-year old daughter, was struck by Graham, a young boy in the film who'd moved to Fiji and could no longer be open about having two dads in his new home. "I would be used to talking about it," she said. Generally, panelists felt accepted by their peers. A panelist's mother remembered taking her son to kindergarten and a small child asking, "why does Sam have two moms?' 'Lucky, I guess,'" the other mother replied, and the kids agreed that Sam was lucky.

The adult panel represented a wide variety of experience. Kim Hunt, executive director of Pride Action Tank, recalled watching her own kids deciding when to "come out" about their lesbian mom, and discussed Pride Action Tank's work with homeless LGBTQ youth. The organization is planning to work with DCFS to help LGBTQ kids tell their stories and place them with LGBTQ-friendly foster families.

Jerry Pohlen, the author of Gay and Lesbian History for Kids, realized that no such book existed when he researched the subject. "As a gay man, I thought that was kind of sad," said Pohlen, who added that he wrote the book for all families.

Katie Zlivovski from the Chicago Children's museum, discussed how her institution strives to be inclusive. Zlivovski said her staff never argues with guests about their all-families-welcome policy: it's a rule just like no hot coffee. "We strongly feel that we need to see all families and gender identities reflected," she said.

"No one can tell you your own gender," said Jason, a musician and transgender high school student. Jill, his mother, talked about finding her son an appropriate school and all of the concerns she had as he transitioned. She said a current concern for Jason, as he chooses to play with gender presentation, is finding safe bathrooms when they're out in public.

Julie Toole, from Baker Demonstration School, spoke to the audience as both teacher and parent. Her younger child, Leo, now identifies as female, and Toole wanted to make sure her school had a statement about gender identity before she discussed her child's transition with other parents. In terms of acceptance, Toole noted "the kids are the easiest part." She said Baker's 90-student middle school started a Gender-Sexuality Alliance; 30 kids showed up for the initial meeting.

Kara Ingelhart, from Lambda Legal, discussed various issues that LGBTQ families and students faced, including ongoing birth certificate challenges in Florida and Wisconsin. "Children are harmed by their parents not being recognized under the law," Ingelhart said. She also mentioned that Lambda is currently focusing on the bathroom bills popping up around the country, and reminded the audience that Lambda's Help Desk is always available.

Ron and Bernadette Whitfield from PFLAG concluded the panel. "We're from the Western suburbs, and I am so blown away by the support you get," said Bernadette. "There's really a lot of work to be done." she mentioned that while they normally deal with LGBTQ students, talking about LGBTQ families could be a new mission. "Every child needs a safe school," she said.

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