Why Raising an LGBTQ-Positive Family in Toronto Sucks Less Now
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Why Raising an LGBTQ-Positive Family in Toronto Sucks Less Now

Two initiatives are supporting LGBTQ inclusion at home.


From left to right: Barb Besharat, Ashley McGhee, Ollie Besharat McGhee, Ian Macpherson, and John Caffery. Photo courtesy of John Caffery.

Meet Ollie. He’s six months old, has four parents, and is part of a historic reform to marriage legislation in Ontario.

Ollie and his family were at Queen’s Park when the All Families Are Equal Act was announced by the Liberal government, a bill that amends an oversight in existing parentage laws. Right now, same-sex couples have to adopt their own children if they use surrogates. Even if they’re married, should a birth parent’s partner be the same gender as them, that parent would have to adopt their own kid too. Because of this, current legislation has been called discriminatory and “disproportionately affects lesbian couples”.

One of Ollie’s dads is John Caffery. He, his partner, their two co-parents, and eight other families challenged the charter in Grand v. Ontario, a lawsuit filed in April. The families later reached a temporary settlement after Premier Kathleen Wynne stated the Liberals would be drafting a bill that overhauled existing parentage recognition. It’s based on a pre-existing NDP private member’s bill that was known as Cy and Ruby’s Act.

“The way it looked before, only two of us could be on the birth certificate,” Caffery says. “My husband and I were looking at having to put our baby up for adoption, so the other couple could have full parental recognition. Which is awful, because we fully intended to parent.”

This momentous leap forward in LGBTQ-inclusive parental rights was made possible because of community-driven efforts that, with little fanfare, make queer and trans identities a Toronto family value.

There are other ways that community initiatives are making LGBTQ families and parenting easier for everyone.

The Ripple Effect: How LGBTQ Youth Can Impact Their Families and Each Other

“We often feel when injustice is happening. We can’t always name it or explain it, but it doesn’t feel right. This group gives people the language.” Caffery says this of Supporting Our Youth – Human Equity Access Team, a youth collective that produced a video called “Kids Explain Pronouns.”

In it, youth have one-on-one conversations with each other, creating shared definitions of what pronouns are and why they’re important to respect.

“Hopefully year after year, with 20 youth each year, what they’ve learned ripples out,” he says. “They’re able to talk to their families, their communities of origin, and pass this stuff on.”

An initiative by Sherbourne Health Centre, SOY H.E.A.T. is a leadership training program for LGBTQ youth interested in social justice. They’ve produced two other videos, including one where kids explain allyship and another explaining intersectionality.

“I think SOY H.E.A.T. is a space where we get to talk about these things, where the barriers are, how to overcome them, and what’s worked in the past … [SOY H.E.A.T. creates] opportunities for mobilization and community connection,” Caffery says. “It’s absolutely a place where we can change policies and challenge laws.”

A day before Ollie’s birth, Caffery was at Black Lives Matter Toronto’s tent city in front of police headquarters, protesting with familiar faces—members of SOY H.E.A.T. were right there with him. It was just another example for Caffery of how these LGBTQ youth are taking active roles in bringing the visible change they want in the city.

The Right Words: How Parents Talk to Their LGBTQ Children

Photo courtesy of Toronto PFLAG.

Photo courtesy of Toronto PFLAG.

“Dad, I’m a lesbian.”

“Mom, I’m not a girl.”

If you saw these words dangling in front of a rushing subway, it’s because of a month-long TTC ad campaign by Parents, Families, Friends Of Lesbians & Gays’ (PFLAG) Toronto chapter. The transit ads could not have been more perfectly timed; they ramped up to National Coming Out Day, which fell on Thanksgiving.

Those ads, which included PFLAG’s number, were seen by the right people. Toronto PFLAG president Anne Creighton reports that a stream of calls came in on Thanksgiving, most seeking counsel with PFLAG volunteers for over an hour.

Creighton says that for youth, mustering up the courage to come out to family can take weeks, months, or years of agony. For parents, reacting takes seconds. They’re often caught by surprise and ill-prepared to handle their child’s words with care.

“They’ve [parents] never given gayness a thought. They flip into problem-solving mode. Most of them ask ‘Are you sure?’” Creighton says. “That’s not something youth want to hear. They’re looking for acceptance and love.”

For both parents and youth, PFLAG is there to ensure acceptance happens. It has a toll-free line for distraught parents or youth to call and gives free school presentations to any student who requests one. Just last week, PFLAG was asked by a trans male youth to come to his high school and help him come out to his classmates.

Creighton, who has lived in Toronto since 1976, has noticed a positive change in how families openly approach gender and sexuality. She hopes that straight and cisgender parents are able to reassure their kids early on. She hopes parents, knowing how likely it is their kids will be queer and/or trans, tell their kids that they love them no matter who they are or who they love.

“When that conversation comes, you are ready,” Creighton says. “Then that child won’t have to keep a secret. And that’s a real gift.”