BY MICHAELA MARX WHEATLEY
Whidbey Life Magazine contibutor
“Love Makes a Family,” a touring photo-text exhibit, is now on display at the Fellowship Hall of Langley United Methodist Church through Sunday, Nov. 4.
The museum-quality exhibit, which includes photographs and interviews with families that have lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) members, is making its stop on Whidbey Island as Referendum 74 is in the hands of voters this November.
Through first-person accounts and positive images, this exhibit seeks to challenge and change myths and stereotypes about LGBT people and their families. At the most basic level, “Love Makes a Family” combats homophobia by encouraging dialogue. By inviting people of all ages – beginning in early childhood – to affirm and appreciate diversity, this traveling rental exhibit contributes to the process of dismantling the destructive power of intolerance. In the process, it may contribute to making the world a safer place for all families.
Driving this point home is the addition of local LGBT families to the award-winning exhibit portraying lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families.
Larry Fox, one of the local organizers, also said that organizers decided to see what would happen if they invited local families to participate.
“So far, we have six local entries,” he said.
Fox shared what he has been telling the families that he recruited, “We understand that ‘coming out’ in this way takes courage because many LGBT people have been wounded by negative attitudes and outright discrimination. In particular, religious institutions have been inhospitable in many cases, rather than safe.
“That is changing, however,” Fox said.
“The most powerful influence for change is the simple matter of getting to know LGBT families and hearing their stories. This exhibit is simply another story-telling device.”
Fox was one of the driving forces behind bringing the exhibit to Whidbey.
“During the 2004 General Conference of the United Methodist Church in Pittsburg, I viewed this exhibit,” he recalled. “Knowing of the power of story to move people, I approached two committees of Langley UMC who agreed that this might be a way to accomplish several goals,” Fox said.
Those goals included to further educate the congregation.
“Through a 2 ½ year process ending in October 2008, we have become a reconciling congregation, the designation within United Methodism for congregations that will welcome LGBT persons into full participation in their congregational life,” he explained.
Other goals included providing the community with one way to learn about such families; and perhaps, for the LGBT community of South Whidbey, be a source of affirmation and provide support for the “Approve Referendum 74” campaign
“Our state faces a fundamental question: Will we honor through law the equality of all families by approving Ref. 74, which provides for marriage equality?” Fox said. “Once approved this law will provide that all couples, straight and gay, will have legal access to the rights and responsibilities of the civil contract called marriage. Fundamental to voting to approve is the understanding that all families are essentially the same.
Fox said the principle is simple.
“It’s love that makes a family,” he said.
“It begins with the love that draws two people together; they express that love beyond themselves if they bring children into their family unit and in how they live out their lives in the larger community, by their work, their social relations and their community service,” he said.
“They all deal with the same day-to-day issues – who’s cooking dinner, who’s taking out the garbage, who’s taking the kids to a Whidbey Children’s Theater play or soccer practice, ad infinitum.”
The intent of the exhibit is to invite reflection, to challenge folks to re-examine any preconceived notions they might have about what makes a family.
“I’ve been a participant in some lengthy, soul-searching conversations with those who have visited,” Fox said.
The exhibit is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and from 6 to 8 p.m.; closed on Saturdays, and open Sundays from noon to 3 p.m. through Nov. 4.
Co-sponsoring this exhibit are several South Whidbey congregations: St. Augustine’s Episcopal, Trinity Lutheran, Unity of Whidbey, Whidbey Island Friends Meeting, and the Unitarian-Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island. The Whidbey Giving Circle and Whidbey PFLAG are also co-sponsors.
(At top, a Gigi Kaeser photo of the Stokes’ family, courtesy of the Family Diversity Projects’ website.)