Aimee Gelnaw was a pioneer in the LGBT family movement, beginning with local organizing in NJ and moving on to serve on the Family Pride Coalition (now Family Equality Council) board and to serving as the executive director for 4 years. She was among the handful of people who created Family Week and then ushered it into its partnership with COLAGE and educational conference piece. Aimee has published work related to creating welcoming and safe schools for LGBT families. She is the mom of two kids: Zack, 32, and Dewey, 20 and now lives in Massachusetts where shares a family of six children with her partner Emmy.
What gave you the idea to start family week in Provincetown? What did the early years look like and how has the event evolved?
My family had been vacationing in Provincetown for a few years when Tim Fisher and Scott Davenport and their children, friends of ours from our NJ LGBT parenting group, came to visit. Having met other families around Provincetown, Tim and Scott hosted a barbecue for about 15 families. The connection was so profound and necessary and led to hatching the idea of hosting family events the following year. Together, we made plans and recruited through the national group, then GLPCI (Gay, Lesbian Parents Coalition International), of which Tim was the executive director. The first year hosted a small group of maybe 30 families with a barbecue, sandcastle building, a whale watch and other small events. For subsequent years, we developed educational and support activities for parents and we expanded and enriched children’s programming. Very quickly, Family Week grew to be one of the largest events in Provincetown and definitively the largest gathering of LGBT families anywhere. As ED of Family Pride Coalition, my staff and I formalized the relationship with COLAGE and initiated corporate sponsorship, the parade, the clambake reception, pajama party movie night, along with toddler, single parent, dads only and other specialty programming. In addition, we expanded the visibility of the event by cultivating media and connection to the broader LGBT activist movement.
What were some of the challenges you faced when you were getting this started? How have things grown?
When my family initially came to Provincetown, there was not always a warm reception. It was very early in the queer family movement and the presence of children in this safe space for LGBT adults was unusual and off-putting for folks in some places. Over time, as families grew more and more visible and as the event ensured a very active and popular event in Provincetown, the welcome became much warmer. Other challenges included logistics of ensuring safety and access for big events such as in Bas Relief park, the parade and campfires. As organizers, we were undeterred and moved forward with sheer commitment to making a safe and welcoming celebration for our families.
You must be so proud of how much family week has grown. Can you share your thoughts about that?
I am so proud. I know what Family Week meant to my children and have witnessed its life changing impact on the thousands of children and families who have attended over these many years There are so many people who have contributed to this growth and steered the Family Equality Council forward in building a better and more just world for our children. These include former and subsequent executive directors (Tim Fisher, Ray Drew, myself, Jennifer Chrisler, Gabriel Blau and now newly appointed Stan Slone) years of gifted and committed staff, local organizers, COLAGE (People with a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Queer Parents), board members past and present, brave and committed families, the town of Provincetown and countless others. It truly takes a village and I am grateful for the contributions that have been made by countless people dedicated to the well-being of our families.