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The Age – "Rainbow Connection" by Jennifer Cook

Jennifer Cook visits a place where gay mums can share stories and hopes.

THEY’VE trundled down Fitzroy Street in St Kilda before – mums, dads and their children – their numbers growing amid the placards and feather boas. And at this year’s gay Pride march, behind a “Rainbow Playgroup” banner, they received some of the loudest cheers.

It has been almost a decade since Fairplay playgroup in Fairfield was set up, but it has almost iconic status in Melbourne’s gay and lesbian community.

Fairplay secretary Tracey Cocks says it is a place same-sex families come to share their stories and allow their children to see other families like theirs.

“We have become an umbrella organisation for the majority of kids attending gay or lesbian playgroups,” she says. “We now represent playgroups in East Bentleigh, Williamstown, Thornbury, two in Fairfield, a group for gay dads and for single mums.”

Ms Cocks joined the Fairplay group shortly after the birth of her daughter five years ago. “When we first had our daughter we were living in Coburg and I joined a local mothers’ group as well as the Fairplay group,” she said.

“The women in my local mothers’ group were all in their mid-20s, married, with first babies. Although we were very different in terms of our life experiences, they were fantastic.

“When we left that playgroup one of the mums said to me ‘before I met you I really didn’t think lesbians should have children but I realise how wrong I was, so thank you’ – it was very moving.”

Ms Cocks and her partner joined Fairplay to share and discuss their experiences with other same-sex families.

“Some women have conceived using a non-identified donor, some through the Victorian IVF system, others have used donors who have been happy to have their identity released and to have contact with the children,” she says.

“Still others have conceived through a heterosexual or a gay friend. I also know of three cases where a lesbian mum and a gay father are living together raising a child.

“Our family includes two gay dads who have regular contact so our daughter has two mums and two dads, which makes birthdays crazy affairs.”

Ms Cocks recalled her reaction when Prime Minister John Howard said every child was entitled to have a mother and a father. “I thought at the time that he must love us because our daughter has two of each,” she laughed.

“I do remember a child of a single mother at my daughter’s kinder saying it wasn’t fair because my daughter had two dads and she didn’t.”

Ms Cocks says she was concerned about her child facing bullying at school, citing a 2004 Melbourne study by Dr Ruth McNair. It found that just under half of children in years 3 to 6 who had gay parents had been bullied because of their family difference.

“This concerned and saddened me. I think in the inner-city suburbs people are coping quite well with different family types,” she says. “But the reality is that not everyone is financially able to live in the inner city or, like us, send their child to a private school.”

Sam Walsh and her partner Jenny Clark have two daughters, 22-month-old Greta and nine-month-old Hester. They live in Regent, a suburb bordering Preston and Reservoir.

Like Ms Cocks, Ms Walsh went along to the Fairfield playgroup to show her daughters there are other types of families like theirs.

From that playgroup she and some other mums started their own “Rainbow Connection” playgroup at Thornbury, which has 15 families with children ranging from five weeks to four years of age.

“It was really nice to have other children running around calling out ‘mummy’ and ‘mama’,” Ms Walsh says.

She says that she isn’t concerned about her children being bullied because of their parents’ sexuality.

“We don’t really have those concerns because Jen, being a teacher, knows how those issues can be handled,” she says. “Jen is a prep teacher at Moonee Ponds Central primary school and we have friends who have kids at Mill Park primary and both communities have been very accepting.

“Because Jen knows how great the state system can be, we are both keen to send our children to public schools. We like the idea of our kids growing up living near their friends.

“We are just like any other parents, we want to raise well-adjusted kids who, with whatever they have to face in life, they can cope with it.”

Paras Christou and Annie Stephens are parents of 22-month-old Marlow and also members of the Rainbow Connection playgroup.

“I heard about the Rainbow Connection playgroup through friends and called Sam – after talking to her I couldn’t wait to come along. As soon as I walked in the door, it was instantly welcoming and I was really happy I made the effort.”

Ms Christou says she is usually the one answering questions about her family, adding it was great to hear the stories of other women.

“Annie and I agree that we are so comfortable with who we are that we don’t need to make a big fuss – we don’t need to fly a banner,” Ms Christou says.

“We are comfortable to exist in a gay community and also live in a wider community. We know we can provide a home with an abundance of love and security – hopefully for Marlow being a same-sex family won’t be an issue.

“We want him to know that it is OK to be different.”

Inquiries for Fairplay playgroups contact Tracey Cocks on 0427 811 186

[Link: Original Article]