Everyone’s first week on the job should be like Stan Sloan’s. The new executive director of Family Equality Council, the national organization for LGBT families, began the role on the first day of Family Week in Provincetown, the organization’s signature event and the world’s largest gathering of LGBT families.
The 500 families took part in activities including a family parade, a beach campfire, free HBO kids’ programming and workshops on more serious topics like how to talk with children about the Orlando shooting. Afterward, Sloan spoke with me about his vision for the organization and our community.
Before coming to Family Equality, Sloan had for 16 years been CEO of Chicago House, which provides housing and employment programs for people disenfranchised by HIV/AIDS, LGBT poverty, and/or gender nonconformity. He is also an ordained Episcopal priest—and while he acknowledges that “religion has been very damaging” to many LGBT people, he hopes to use his status “for good”— for example, in fighting so-called “religious liberty” laws that discriminate against LGBT people.
He takes up his new role at what he calls “a very critical moment” for the LGBT community. Now that marriage equality is won, he said, “Either we find something big enough to capture us for the future or we may not stay together” as such a strong movement. “We’re nowhere near a resting point,” he continued. Discrimination still exists in the foster care system against LGBT potential foster parents and LGBT kids, as well as in employment and housing, which impact both LGBT families and individuals. “The idea of lived equality and of equality within LGBTQ—I think we’re just now starting to scrape the surface of that. That’s where I see Family Equality being able to take a real leadership role.”
A key part of that role, he says, is encouraging families to help families. He explained, “Currently, about 5 percent of LGBTQ people support LGBTQ causes. If you look at the fact that LGBTQ children and LGBTQ families are about twice as likely to have food insecurity as mainstream families, we can certainly be doing a better job of taking care of one another. I see that as our huge agenda for the future.”
That agenda would include “LGBTQ people with resources sharing with LGBTQ people in need, but also fighting to change the policies of our emergency systems, our food programs, and our housing assistance programs.”
“A lot of people here at Family Week can afford to take a week off work and stay in P’town, and that’s great,” he said—but when he’s spoken with them about those who can’t attend and may be putting their children to bed hungry, he’s seen tears in their eyes. “We’re ready to do something better,” he asserted.
He added, “You can’t talk economic disparity without talking race.” His favorite event at Family Week, he said, was an ice cream social for interracial families. “It was a metaphor of what we’re looking toward. We’re still way too segregated and too isolated. Part of the power of families helping families is you can connect stories and break down some of the stereotypes that exist, both socioeconomically and racially.”
To that end, another Family Week event encouraged conversations around topics such as gun violence, racism, and the Black Lives Matter movement. The event, held in partnership with COLAGE, the organization for people with LGBT parents, created breakout sessions for parents of color raising children of color, white parents raising children of color, and white parents raising white children, then brought them back together to learn from each other.
They plan to continue conversations about racial injustice through online forums, and will work for change in coalition with various partners, such as organizations focused on gun violence prevention.
And Sloan’s vision of families helping each other could have a wider impact on the LGBT movement as a whole. He explained, “If we can do it with families supporting families, then hopefully we’ll move that bar from only 5 percent of LGBTQ people supporting LGBTQ causes. . . . And if we could do it for families, because people care about kids, it’s an easy entry point for people into the idea of building a better world and of altruism. I think we’ve got a real role to play there.”
For Family Equality to take on this role, however, Sloan feels, means being more outspoken about their own work. The organization has been doing “amazing things,” he said, but “I don’t think we’re very good at letting the world know how we’re impacting the broader movement.” While big court decisions and legislative wins grab headlines, many of Family Equality’s successes have come from less flashy but still important work with federal and state executive agencies. Even before national marriage equality, for example, they partnered with other organizations to help the Department of Labor implement a rule change that extended job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act to employees with same-sex spouses anywhere in the country. They similarly helped change the federal student aid process to better recognize same-sex-headed families and helped modernize federal forms to include “parent” and “parent” options instead of just “mother” and “father.”
Moving forward, he asserted, “We’ll be less quiet about what we do and much more intentional about making sure that we’re supporting one another better under our rainbow. I’m very grateful to be here and I’m very optimistic about what we’re going to be able to do.”
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of mombian.com, a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBTQ parents.