“There are no words for that kind of belonging”
Family Week in Provincetown, the world’s largest annual gathering of LGBTQ+ families, is taking place in Provincetown through July 30. This year they’re expecting record-breaking attendance, with more than 1,600 registrants by July 20.
Stacey Stevenson, chief executive officer of Family Equality, spoke with DigBoston about the importance of forming community and connections among LGBTQ+ families.
“There are 3.7 million children being raised by an LGBTQ+ parent,” Stevenson said. “But too often, our families struggle to feel wholly respected and seen by their neighborhoods, their schools, their doctors, and their communities.”
According to Stevenson, Family Equality works to create spaces where any member of LGBTQ+ families feel empowered and supported to live authentically.
“For 358 days a year, our children go to school or playdates and feel like they’re the only kids with LGBTQ+ parent in the world,” Stevenson said. “And then, for a magical week in Provincetown, they are surrounded by families that look and love like theirs does. There are no words for that kind of belonging.”
John Frenzer, who has attended Family Week for more than 10 years, said Family Week is like “a very large extended family,” where people know and care for each other.
“It’s a point of discussion when somebody doesn’t show up,” Frenzer said.
Frenzer lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with his husband Jeff Sautter and their two daughters. Frenzer said there are many same-sex couples with children in the town he lives in, so his children never felt the need of discussion.
But for a lot of younger kids, Family Week is the first time that they’ve ever been around other kids who have a parent or parents who self-identify as a part of the LGBTQ+ community.
“I remember meeting a couple from Nova Scotia, two women, with their kids, and they had never even met other kids,” Frenzer said. “It was a real opportunity for them to let their guard down a little bit and just not have so many imposing questions.”
Frenzer added, “Especially because a lot of these kids don’t identify as being LGBTQIA except by association with their family. So it’s nice for them to be in an environment where it’s not presumed what they are or it’s not stigmatized; they can just be who they are.”
Stevenson lives with their wife, Cheralyn, and their two sons, Duke and London, in Dallas, Texas. Speaking from personal experiences, Stevenson said having the opportunity to celebrate pride and joy with the LGBTQ+ community is precious to them.
“It’s been an extremely challenging time to be an out, LGBTQ+ family in Texas, from dangerous anti-trans policies to threats to our families’ fundamental freedoms,” Stevenson said. “I cherish the opportunity to have my family with me in Provincetown for Family Week.”
There are many ways one can enjoy Family Week.
Guest lecturers who are authorities on LGBTQ+ subjects are invited to the event to help participants navigate issues that they are dealing with. There is also a variety of family entertainment sessions, from storytelling to whale watching.
Sometimes even running up and down the streets can yield unexpected results.
Frenzer said his older daughter found research inspirations at Family Week. For her history class, she wrote about the history of drag balls of the 1920s.
“A lot of stuff came from some of her research into what they were doing here in Provincetown and where this whole art form came from,” Frenzer said. “It really sparked an interest…sitting there staring at one of the drag queens on the street, and kind of clicked like Wait, what is this all about? What is happening here?”
Continuous community involvement has also motivated Frenzer’s daughter to take part in social issues.
“My dad-like daughter lectures me on the LGBTQIA issues… Sometimes I have to remind her, you know, I was a little gay boy in Southern Virginia and I was born in the 1960s so I know a little bit about what we’re talking about,” Frenzer said with a big smile on his face.
“But she immerses herself in all of the issues and someday will be an amazing advocate, even professionally.”
When asked what Family Week means to him, Frenzer said it is the opportunity to really get to know people, beyond the “segmented little silos” that are usually seen in big cities and in bars. While professional and family commitments often make it difficult for people to find time to meet up in the cities, “we all arrive here in Provincetown with a single mission—to relax, visit with each other and catch up,” he said.
“At Family Week in Provincetown,” Stevenson said, “that’s exactly what you get: a community that recognizes and respects your family in all its pride, the opportunity to build cherished connections with other LGBTQ+ youth and families, and a whole lot of fun in the sun.”
Artemis is a Taiwanese writer, activist, and entrepreneur. At the age of 16, she founded Taiwan’s largest student-based independent international news organization. She graduated with a Bachelor of Laws degree from Peking University and is now a journalism graduate student at Boston University. She hopes to achieve social justice with the power of communication.