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Off The Path - LGBTQ Stories: How 'Family Week' helped gay families find acceptance

Families spread out blankets on Herring Cove Beach in Provincetown, Mass., for the 2021 Family Week.
Davis Dunavin
WSHU Public Radio
Families spread out blankets on Herring Cove Beach in Provincetown, Mass., for the 2021 Family Week.

A few LGBTQ families met up on the tip of Cape Cod one summer in the mid '90s. Their fun beach week had a bigger impact than they expected. Family Week — as it’s called — has helped redefine ideas of marriage and family for more than 25 years. And it still takes place every summer in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Tim Fisher and Scott Davenport brought their kids to Provincetown for a week in the summer of 1995. Other gay couples brought their kids, too. Scott recalled the day in an interview with the advocacy group Family Equality, who co-host the event.

“We only had probably 25 or 30 families, and we only did one event every day,” Davenport said. “So it was very small, but clearly it connected people to each other in a very powerful way.”

So, the families decided to repeat it the next year.

“A few years later it got even bigger and we were flipping burgers for 400 all lined up on the beach,” Davenport said.

The organizers of Family Week say it’s the largest annual gathering of LGTBQ families in the world — thousands from across the country come every year. There are parades, movie nights, picnics, hikes — and, of course, plenty of time on the beach.

This past summer, on a sunny July day at Herring Cove Beach — families build sand castles and splash in the water. Deanna and Laura McFerrin-Hogan sit under an umbrella. They came up from Texas with their kids — just as they have for almost a decade.

“Coming here is great because it’s grown so much just in nine years,” Deanna said.

“We can go out to eat without people asking ‘do you want separate checks?’” Laura said. “We don’t have the same gender roles/stereotypes/constructs like we do at home where I have to hang out with the dads and Deanna hangs out with the moms. It’s just an easier way of living, and it looks nice, too.”

“It’s hard to hate people you know,” Deanna said. “And so being out, being visible, letting people see that we’re just like any other family… it’s really hard to hate that.”

That’s important for couples like Deanna and Laura. It’s also important for kids.

Twenty-one-year-old Angel Martin has come here since they were three. They later came out as nonbinary. Angel is from rural Northwestern Connecticut — the area known as the ‘quiet corner.’

“Which was very conservative, homogenous, and we were the only queer family that we knew,” Angel said. “So coming to Family Week was, like, a safe haven for me. It was the only place that I could feel like myself and meet other people that had similar family makeups.”

Angel joined up with COLAGE, which stands for Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere. It’s one of two groups that organizes Family Week now. Angel puts together workshops for kids where they talk about what it’s like to grow up in an LGBTQ family.

“Honestly, I feel like we learn as much from the youth as they do from us,” Angel said. “Those are probably the most fulfilling moments. We will always need this space as long as gay and trans oppression exists. It’s easy to forget that things keep progressing, and there is still oppression. That’s why we need these really safe spaces.”

Emily McGranachan works with the advocacy group Family Equality. Her moms first brought her to Family Week in 2003. Like Angel, she didn’t have a lot of allies growing up.

“In previous years, for a lot of people, if you wanted to have a family it was something that you did within the context of a heterosexual relationship,” she said.

Emily says she had to do her own “coming out,” in a way, since elementary school — as a child of gay parents. Now she identifies as queer herself, as do a lot of children of gay parents. It’s easier, she says, to come out when you’re surrounded by so much love, tolerance and support.

“I grew up feeling culturally queer, and still missing a piece of fully understanding my own identity,” she said. “Then at that first Family Week in 2003, I heard a term called “queerspawn,” and I had never had a word for me… But at 13 I didn’t know where I fit in the community, so having a word for my identity was so great.”

A quarter century after Family Week began, some former kids like Emily have started to bring their own queerspawn. Emily brought her daughter to the week of festivities for the first time this past summer.

“So I’m very excited for this whole new experience and lens of getting to see Family Week, and for my kiddo to get to see a whole new variety of beautiful LGBT families,” she said.

Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.