Angie Buckles, left, Annie Rausch, and their two kids, Isabelle and Isaac, in Provincetown from Indiana for the 20th annual Family Week. (Photo: Rick Friedman for Yahoo Parenting)
For a lesbian family living in a small Midwestern farming town — West Point, Ind., population 594 — the Buckles-Rausch clan is extremely fortunate: They have a close group of friends, supportive families, nondiscriminatory work environments, and an open and affirming church where moms Angie Buckles and Annie Rausch were just married, on July 11, in front of 150 loved ones.
Still, the women and their two children, Isabelle, 9, and Isaac, 7, were compelled to make the 1,000-mile pilgrimage to Provincetown, Mass., one of the gayest zip codes in America, for Family Week — an event that bills itself as “the largest annual gathering of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer-identified parents and their families in the world.” Here, they join more than 500 other families from around the country and the world (some coming from as far as Italy and England) for a lineup of massive playdates, group meals, workshops, and beach parties — and the emotionally powerful realization that, for a full seven days, families like theirs were in the majority.
“It’s a culture shock, in a way, because we feel comfortable holding hands here,” Rausch, 40, a first-grade teacher, tells Yahoo Parenting while taking a break from activities to relax and reflect in the 1780s cottage the couple has rented with friends in this bustling Cape Cod town. Back at home, she explains, they’d never display their affection so publicly.
Preparing to march in Family Week’s pride parade, which capped off a full week of parties, workshops, and activities. (Photo: Rick Friedman for Yahoo Parenting)
“Our town is very, very small,” adds Buckles, 41, an electrician-turned-surgical-technician who grew up there and knows pretty much everyone, and who now lives, with her family, in a house right next door to her parents. “We have a bar, and we go over there for wings when they have family night. And sometimes I feel awkward walking in there, all four of us, just because people we don’t know may look at us funny.”
As far as they know, they are the only lesbians who live in the community, Rausch explains. And whenever they do eat out — even if the server recognizes them — they’ll be asked if they would like separate checks. “All the time,” she says, noting how different the experience was for them while having lunch at the Provincetown’s al fresco Burger Queen earlier that day.
“We were sitting really close to another family, a straight family, and I said something to Isaac, like, ‘Sit here and talk to your moms,’” she recalls. “That’s not something I necessarily would’ve said in a similar situation in my own community. But I didn’t feel at all [self-conscious]. I almost felt proud. It feels really safe here.”
That’s the aim, in a nutshell, of Family Week, which hit its 20-year milestone this year. The event, which was started in the 1990s by New Jersey couple Tim Fisher and Scott Davenport, who turned a Provincetown vacation with their two kids into an ad-hoc dinner party for the few other gay families they met at the beach, has grown exponentially over the years. “Provincetown has been a refuge for our community,” Gabriel Blau, executive director of Family Equality Council, tells Yahoo Parenting at a Family Week newcomers’ orientation. The national group organized the annual event along with COLAGE (Children of Lesbian and Gay Families Everywhere). “And part of being a refuge means being a refuge for who we are today.”
Photo: Rick Friedman for Yahoo Parenting
Blau, father to a 7-year-old son along with his husband, is referring to how Provincetown — a seaside community with a rich history of embracing cultural outsiders, from artists and writers to LGBT folks — has had to grapple with the changing, mainstreaming face of the gay community.
“They used to hate us,” Blau says of Family Week attendees, recalling how small children were not always (and still often are not) so welcome in town, seen as buzz-killing interlopers in a place that so valued its sexual openness and anti-picket-fence quirkiness. Highchairs were only available in a handful of restaurants until a few years ago, and strollers were once a rare sight on Commercial Street — the main downtown strip in “P-town,” where drag queens hawking their shows now blend easily with the kids in “I Love My Two Mommies” T-shirts who toddle through all summer long.
Still, Family Week brings a noticeably large influx of kids to town — even to the bars, which have hosted some family-friendly happy hours as a way for parents to unwind from some of the heavier programming, like “Homophobia, Censorship and Family Values” and “Race and How It Impacts Our Families,” just two of the many talks offered during the week. At one of the dads’ happy hours, held at the picturesque Harbor Lounge, spiffy men packed the place to sip cocktails, nibble from a spread of lobster and paté, and bond about fatherhood as kids darted in between their legs and out onto the sandy bay beach below. They spoke of wanting their children “to see families like ours” — not only gay, but biracial, adopted, and just different-looking in any way — even if they came from relatively open-minded communities.
Photo: Rick Friedman for Yahoo Parenting
“My daughter is biracial, Catholic, and has two dads,” Armando Castro-Tie of suburban Long Island, father to a 9-year-old girl and 2-year-old son, tells Yahoo Parenting while relaxing on the lounge’s waterfront deck. “And my community is very straight and very Jewish.” But that afternoon, he explains, his daughter took part in an afternoon of COLAGE programming, where teens and young adults with LGBT parents ran fun, intense discussions about family identities. “When I asked her about it, she said, ‘I had a good time, don’t worry about it,’” Castro-Tie said, shrugging but clearly pleased. “She found comfort in it that was all her own.”
Across the street at the moms’ happy hour, kids hunkered down at craft stations while tables of mothers drank beer and munched finger foods. Buckles and Rausch sat with friends new and old, including, Tanya Agnew and Amy Crampton, another couple from Indiana. “We have a nice, solid community at home,” Agnew, mom to two boys, 11 and 22, and a Family Week veteran, tells Yahoo Parenting. “But I still feel like it’s important to be somewhere where we’re the majority, where we can freely hold hands.”
Agnew divorced her husband and came out when her older child was a year old, she says, and admits that being a lesbian mom that first time around felt much more challenging than it does now with her younger son, who is being raised by two moms from the get-go. “A lot of it was my comfort level with myself, which is of course impacted by society,” she says. “I was much more cautious and worried then. Now, I come with the assumption” of it being OK.
Photo: Rick Friedman for Yahoo Parenting
Rausch used to worry about the Indiana parents of the first-graders she teaches finding out she was gay — but that was before she and Buckles had kids of their own. “It was a big coming out, and now everyone at school, I would assume, knows,” she says. “Angie comes to back-to-school nights, the kids have Angie’s last name, and I’m changing my name soon, so I’ll be Mrs. Buckles.”
Their path to parenthood was rocky at first, with Rausch using donor sperm to go through nine rounds of expensive, and upsetting, unsuccessful IVF attempts. “Angie said, ‘Hey, why don’t we stop. Let’s try fostering and get our license to foster,’” she recalls. They entered into a foster-to-adopt program and wound up fostering four children — including a Hispanic brother and sister they were prepared to adopt until the father stepped back into the picture, resulting in a lot of heartbreak for the moms; a young African-American boy; and their now-daughter Isabelle, a preemie who spent her first five months alone in the neonatal intensive care unit and had no parents come to claim her when she was ready to go home. “They were challenging kids, because they had been through hell,” Rausch says. “But when I look back on it, it was positive. We are middle-class, white, and have a Catholic-school background, so there were a lot of world lessons that we learned.”
Rausch and Buckles were able to adopt Isabelle after a year and a half, and though they wanted a sibling for their daughter, they took a break from fostering because all the separations had begun to feel traumatic. And that’s when a big surprise came, in the form of Isaac.
“This family came up to us after church one Sunday,” Angie recalls. “Their daughter got pregnant and asked if we would be interested in adopting her child, and we said yes. Then we met with the birth mom and birth dad for dinner … and they called us a couple weeks later and asked, ‘Will you be the child’s parent?’” The birth mom and dad wanted to finish college and did not want to raise a child together, but for the moms, the timing was perfect.
“I believe that was a God thing,” Annie says. “We were invited to doctors’ appointments, and we got to be in the birthing room. And it was amazing, because I thought I’d never get to experience that — which I was going to be OK with — but it was just like an added cherry on top to get to do that, too.”
Kind of like attending Family Week — and especially the joyous pride parade that took over Commercial Street on the final day — and living in an accepting hometown.
“It is such a gift to be surrounded by a community that celebrates your family,” Rausch says from Indiana, just a couple of days after their return. “The parade was an example of that. I was very moved by the people that were clapping and cheering as all of our families were walking by, and my hope is that we’ll hold onto that feeling and come back to it when we need to feel the love.”