Interview with Children of Lesbian and Gays Everywhere Staff
What is COLAGE? Who started it and why?
Beth Teper, Executive Director: COLAGE was founded in 1990 by a group of people in their teens and 20s who were attending a LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi, transgender) parenting conference in DC, which basically gave them an opportunity to share their life experience for the first time. None of them had met other children of LGBT parents before, and the experience was cathartic and prompted them to create a network. They figured if they had never met others like themselves, there must be many more out there. For the first ten years of the organization it was run by youth under the age of 28.
What services are offered by COLAGE? Is it a support group? An advocacy group?
BT: The mission of COLAGE is that it engages, connects and empowers people to make the world a better place for children of gay and lesbian and transgender parents and families. Our work includes support, advocacy and education.
Meridith Fenton, Program Coordinator: On the support side we have national programs like our pen pal program. People can fill out an application on our website and we match pen pals together who seem like they'd be a good fit.
Is that a mentor/mentee relationship?
MF: It's a peer to peer group - if you're a ten year old girl who likes horses, we'll try to connect you with another ten year old girl who likes horses. Sometimes kids want to meet someone else who was adopted by a gay dad, or someone else with a transgender parent, or they say "my parent died of AIDs" and they want to meet someone with a similar experience.
We also have an online community with community discussion boards - kids can go online with questions like "I'm trying to figure out how to tell a friend that my parent is gay." Or, "kids at school say being gay is wrong, what should I tell them?"
Is there a "typical" profile of a COLAGE member? Are they generally adopted, or children of parents who came out after having been in heterosexual relationships?
MF: People often wonder what is the constituency of children with gay parents and the numbers are very broad. We've heard that there are between 1 and 14 million children under the age of 18 with gay parents. We believe that there are at least 10 million under the age of 18, and when you include people over 18 there could be as many as 14 million.
Amongst those, about half are those of us whose parents were initially in a straight relationship and then probably about 20 to 30 percent are adopted. And the rest is the age 10 and under set that are most likely to be a result of artificial insemination.
You have about 40 chapters of COLAGE throughout the US and Canada - is there a type of city that's more likely to host a chapter? Like, a traditionally liberal city because it's more accepting - or maybe a conservative city because people feel they need to look harder for support and acceptance.
BT: It's both - we have an active chapter in Madison, Wisconsin has been really active for many years and is know as a town with a high lesbian population. On the other hand, we have a very active chapter in central Illinois, that get together more out of a sense of isolation.
How do people start chapters of COLAGE?
BT: We have a pretty extensive chapter guide that covers everything from how to find members, to sending mailing labels, to checking in and monitoring progress after about a month.