Meeting with rainbow families
In Finland, families of lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans* parents are commonly referred to as rainbow families. Rainbow families include one or more parents who identify with a sexual or gender minority. The adults in the family may be, for example, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, transvestite or transgender individuals – or any combination of these. The range of family forms and situations is broad: in addition to families with a same-sex couple, this group includes many types of single-parent and blended families, or families in which the parental duties are shared by three or four adults. The children may have been conceived at home or in a fertility clinic, and many families include, of course, children from previous relationships.
The quality of the service provided may not reflect or be altered by the professional’s personal convictions, opinions or world view. The service can be equally good despite one’s biases or viewpoints as long as the professionals are aware of their own biases, retain a professional approach and are open to embrace new information.
What should a professional take into consideration when meeting with rainbow families?
Become aware of your own biases and dare to be open to difference.
Ask questions openly. You can borrow words that others use to describe themselves and their family. The question “Will the child’s father also be coming to the clinic?” will generate a different reaction from an expectant mother in a same-sex relationship than would the questions “Did you come alone or will you be accompanied by someone else?” or “Who else will be part of the child’s family?”
Allow the parent space to be who he/she is or to come out of the closet. Instead of talking about mothers and fathers, use the word ‘parent’. If the mother shows up alone, you could ask if there are any other adults in the family.
Same-sex couples also need support for their relationship and roles in parenthood. Don’t be embarrassed or shy in your approach to the subject.
Ask your questions directly. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. If you phrase something incorrectly, you can always apologize.
The process of building trust with customers who belong to a sexual or gender minority may require more time and creativity than in dealings with the general population. Often, the threshold to seek services may be higher than usual; a large portion of rainbow family members are afraid of meeting with discrimination or improper treatment.
If you know nothing about rainbow families or have never dealt with such families, it would be fair, courageous and professional to admit this up front. An awareness of one’s own lack of knowledge is a good place to begin learning something new.