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Businesses or attractions don’t always make a conscience effort to be welcoming and inclusive for non-traditional families. But there are some common signs that indicate a place is welcoming to LGBTQ+ — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning — people and their families. Read on to learn key ways public places can be more inclusive.
What LGBTQ+ Families want
As a lesbian mom, I demand equality for my family. When I take my kids out in Chicago to our favorite places, I expect to be treated like any other family. Go ahead, charge me five bucks for a Walking Turkey Taco at Maggie Daley Park. Who doesn’t like eating ground turkey meat topped with crushed Fritos, shredded cheese, and something resembling lettuce and tomato served in a Fritos’ bag? If some other ill-prepared parent caved into buying this crappy meal for a whiny, hungry child, then I should be subjected to buying one too. That’s equality for you.
I’m not going to pretend there are an abundance of blatantly LGBTQ+ family-friendly public places in Chicago. But the Windy City is definitely more tolerant than other towns and cities across the country.
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Defining LGBTQ+ Friendly
What makes a fun spot friendly to the LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) community? For starters, there should be a rainbow flag sticker at its front entrance at all times. Or in the least, a rainbow flag displayed during Pride Month. I return to these places again and again out of loyalty, just as I’m loyal to Honey Maid graham crackers for using same-sex coupled families in their advertisements.
But the establishment can’t simply paper itself with rainbows to be truly inclusive. The staff members should have sensitivity training. What might this training look like?
The cashier at the museum gift shop, for instance, avoids referencing mom and dad. Instead the cashier asks: “Did the adult you’re here with say it’s OK to buy that one-of-a-kind Dino Egg Excavation Kit?”
The cashier doesn’t seem bewildered when my child answers, “Yes, my moms said I could buy it, but if they find another one like it unopened at the bottom of the toy box, I’m paying for it!” Then the cashier acknowledges our family structure by saying, “Your moms are awfully smart.”
Does this ever happen? Hardly ever.
How Public Places Can Make a Difference for LGBTQ+
Using inclusive language is the key to welcoming all guests. It’s OK for you to call attention to the language, photographs, or signage displayed in places where all families should feel welcome. When you don’t see a gender-neutral bathroom, ask why the place doesn’t have one. When a tour guide uses language such as “boys and girls [moms and dads], follow me,” kindly correct them by saying, “We’re a two-dad family.”
Or ask, “Would you mind referring to children as ‘friends’ instead? Not all kids fit into the boy/girl category.” Besides, isn’t it quicker to say friends? Everyone knows what the words parent or caregiver means, so why not use it to make everyone feel included? Announcements, no matter how garbled-sounding, should use inclusive language, especially because they are meant for everyone to hear.
Suggest books to gift shops where you do not see LGBTQ+ family books represented. I call out these exclusions when appropriate to model for my children it’s OK to be proud of your family, or to speak up when you don’t see yourself reflected in the world you live in.
Not everyone feels comfortable speaking out. Instead, write a note. Put it in the suggestion box, or drop it off at admissions or the information desk. Calling awareness to issues is a start, and perhaps these public places will make changes to be more inclusive.
About the author
Theresa Volpe is a children’s book author, LGBTQ+ family advocate and mother of three. She serves on the Board of Directors of One Million Kids for Equality. It works to empower LGBTQ youth and the children of LGBTQ parents to share their stories for social and political change. She is Managing Editor for the online publication, ProudYouth. She is an advisor for the Chicago Children’s Museum’s LGBTQ Inclusion Initiative. Theresa, along with her wife Mercedes, were instrumental in the fight for marriage equality in Illinois. The Santos-Volpe family were plaintiff’s in the LAMBDA Legal lawsuit filed against the State of Illinois, and testified before the Illinois Senate in support of the Illinois Marriage Equality Bill.