The following is the email I sent to the Director of our Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered Community Center about the exclusion of queer families from organized neighborhood potlucks. I sent it last Wednesday and have yet to receive a reply. I am hoping the delay is indicative of forthcoming change and not just apathy about the issue or that email hasn't been read yet. I'll keep everyone posted if/when I get a reply.
Dear [Director's name]:
I write to you regarding the recent Winterfest activities, specifically the Neighborhood Potlucks and my family.
As I am sure you are aware due to your work in our community, one of the hardest things about becoming a lesbian parent in Utah is not the atmosphere of hatred and fear that expresses itself so well during our legislative session. It is the loss of community. It is the inevitable dwindling of one's social circle as you focus on your child and your friends focus on... well, on whatever they were focusing on before the child was born. This type of isolation is normal. It happens to every parent whether gay, straight, single, or partnered. And yet, here, where a community is stretched so thin, where the weight of legislated hatred and doctrinal homophobia serves to make GLBTQ people feel unwelcome, unwanted, misguided, and wrong in every way, isolation can be devastating. You know this, this is why we have the Center, this is why we work so hard to create community and safe spaces. This is also why when I first saw the notices about the Neighborhood Potlucks that kicked off during Winterfest, my partner and I were so excited. A last, here was a chance to get to meet the people behind the rainbow flags hanging in Sugarhouse homes. Here was a chance to reopen our social circle, and socialize during the daytime, away from smoky bars. Here was a way would could meet new people -- meet neighbors, create community -- without having to try to find a babysitter.
We went to the website, looked up the email address for the Sugarhouse potluck, and sent off an excited email. To our dismay, we received an email in reply that stated that children were not welcome at the Sunday afternoon, neighborhood potlucks. Confused, I opened up the NPN charter attached to the email. The charter states:
Aside from downtown Salt Lake City, the outlying areas are unique. Unlike Salt Lake City proper, there are limited or no “gay hangouts,” meeting places, community centers, theaters, coffee shops, etc. that serve the queer community, compared to the venues that are immediately accessible to those living in or near Salt Lake City. Therefore, the Potluck Network wishes to serve ALL LGBTQ people by:
It then goes on to state the official objectives of the NPN, which I will not include in this email as I'm sure that you've already read them. I just want to point out that the "all" in all caps is original to the document. My question: How can something that claims to wish "to serve ALL LGBTQ people" put up barriers against a portion of the population that is already isolated from the community? This is not advertised as a cocktail party, or an "The L Word" soiree or some other "adult only" entertainment. This is a neighborhood potluck scheduled for a Sunday afternoon. A potluck that strives to "help create a group of neighborhood 'family' members" and to assist "people in getting to know those who live in their immediate city or area, which in turn can make their lives more familiar, comfortable, and enjoyable" by "introducing people to others like them, who will readily accept them for who they are." How can something with a charter that speaks these words exclude GLBTQ parents and their children? Are we, now that we have children, no longer a part of the LGBT community?
When I wrote back to the Charter captain for Sugarhouse, I was told that the decision to exclude children was made by Lynda Lxx and Jennifer Nxxxxxxx. I wrote to Jennifer expressing interest in a neighborhood potluck where my partner and I could bring our daughter, and was referred to the Gay and Lesbian Parents of Utah. GLPU is a fine group. I should know, I'm a member. In fact, I just turned down an offer to be their treasurer. But the GLPU has a different mission than the NPN. The two are not equivalent. Just because I want to be able to bring my child, does not mean that I am looking for a playgroup. Just because I am a parent does not mean that I want only to meet other parents. My partner and I wanted to meet other GLBTQ people, regardless of whether they are parents or not, in our neighborhood.
I have talked about this with many people. They all express surprise that children would not be welcome at a neighborhood potluck. I can understand, in part, a reluctance to extend a blanket invitation to children: I, too, have had gatherings disrupted because someone brought a child that could not behave, or because someone brought a child and then dumped responsibility for that child's entertainment and well-being on the other guests of the party. I too would not want those people around. But, to make a blanket statement that ALL children are not welcome, seems directly contrary to the stated mission of the activity.
Unlike many other GLBTQ parents, my partner and I are close to our family of origin. We have a support system that keeps us from feeling too isolated. We know many GLBTQ parents who do not. Further, many of these parents and families feel isolated from the GLBTQ community in general. Many of the "official" community activities take place in bars, or in evenings, making it difficult for parents to attend. This seemed like an activity that could bring both parents and non-parents together to create a more welcoming, cohesive community. I am extremely disappointed that the people who created it and who run it do not see it that way. I hope that Jennifer and Lynda will change their minds and allow parents to bring their children to the neighborhood potlucks.
One further thought: removing the barriers to attendance by GLBTQ parents would be good for the survival of the potlucks themselves. Though in her final email to me Barbara stated that she would remove me from the email list, she has not. In a subsequent email sent to everyone on the Sugarhouse NPN list Barbara stated that no one had volunteered to host the next, or any future, Sugarhouse Neighborhood potlucks. This is sad, since if Kristin and I had been allowed to attend we would have volunteered to host at least one and because we have other friends in Sugarhouse who would also have attended if children were welcome, and those friends would also have volunteered to host.
I am forwarding my original communication with Barbara (Sugarhouse charter captain).
Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on this subject. I look forward to hearing your own thoughts in return.
Trista [Last name]