OUR HISTORY

  • 1970s to 1990s

     

    Rainbow Families Beginnings

    Pictured left:  Rainbow Families DC wins Best Parade Float in the Capital Pride Parade, 1999

    In the 1970s in Washington DC, a group known as Gay Fathers was created for previously married gay dads to connect with one another and share resources.   The group was loosely connected with other gay fathers groups in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and after several years, the organization became the Gay Fathers Coalition.

    Meanwhile, in 1981, Michele Zavos and her then-partner formed a Lesbian Moms Group (see her story, “Revolutionary & Different” here) with upwards of 50 women who gathered weekly to discuss conception, adoption, parenting ideas, safer schools for their kids, navigating extended family and more.  This would eventually become part of the Whitman Walker Clinic’s Lesbian Services Program.

    In 1984 the Gay Fathers Coalition became known as “Gay and Lesbian Parents Coalition” to include lesbian parents.   As this grew, international chapters were formed in Canada, Europe and Australia and the name was again changed to “Gay and Lesbian Parents Coalition, International (GLPCI)”.  This subsequently became the “Family Equality Council”.

    As the same-sex parenting movement expanded its options with more families being formed through adoption and surrogacy, in 1988, the Washington DC chapter of this group branched off to become Rainbow Families DC led by Scott Davenport & Tim Fischer.  As one of the most visible gay male couples with kids in the area, they had a desire to connect with other gay parents and meet some of the needs not filled by the other group.   They created an AOL listserv, held social events at their home, local parks, skating rinks, etc. and shared resources of accepting schools, pediatricians, and service providers.  This was among the first resources of its kind, with the mission to help gay parents connect and share information, especially as in those days, LGBT parenting was not openly supported – or even discussed.

    *Information provided by James Fagelson, Board Member, 1985-1996

  • Late 1990s to Early 2000s

     

    Whitman-Walker, Passing the Baton, and a Conference is Born

    Pictured left:  Ellen Kahn

    During this time, Washington DC’s Whitman-Walker Clinic (WWC) had a robust Lesbian Services Program.  Ellen Kahn, Director of the program (and having had her first child with her partner in 1999) worked to expand LGBT family programs at WWC including advocacy, parent groups, and outreach to pediatricians, fertility clinics, and adoption agencies.   The lesbian parents group formed by Michele Zavos in 1981 became part of this program.

    This is also where the Maybe Baby classes became more structured.  And, as a greater number of men were starting families, primarily through surrogacy and international adoption, demand grew for a men’s Maybe Baby class as well.

    As Scott & Tim’s children got older, they wanted to step down but keep RFDC going.   They spoke with Ellen to discuss passing the baton to her under WWC.  With WWC’s leadership and support, Rainbow Families DC became a part of their Lesbian Services Program. The AOL listserv, the embodiment of RFDC, was passed onto its new home at WWC.

    In 2003, RFDC held its first Family Gathering with Aimee Gelnaw of Family Pride Coalition (now Family Equality Council) at Takoma Park Middle School in Takoma Park Maryland.    This would be the first Rainbow Families Conference and would become an annual program.

  • 2005 to 2008

     

    A New Organization Forms

    In 2005, WWC was transitioning to a federally-qualified health center, which brought about certain challenges – for example, non-reimbursable services would be stripped out including most of Lesbian Services and all of RFDC.   At that time, Ellen left WWC to work for the Human Rights Campaign, where she sought and received approval from WWC’s leadership to move RFDC and its associated programming with Ellen.

    Having done so, Ellen then established RFDC as its own nonprofit entity – and would become one of a few lesbian and gay parent groups in the country.

    The first board was established and despite growing pains, the board worked tirelessly to get RFDC to function as a nonprofit. They adopted by-laws and pursued non-profit status.  RFDC had no staff and was completely volunteer led, and held many programs still part of today’s Rainbow Families.   At this time, programs such as Maybe Baby were officially handed over to Rainbow Families to own and maintain.

    In 2007, RFDC transitioned from the AOL listserv to a new membership platform – a significant step for the organization.

    In June 2008, RFDC received its official nonprofit status as a 501(c)3 organization

  • 2009 to 2013

     

    Establishing Rainbow Families

    During these years, RFDC continued to operate the programming it had become known in the community and region for – the Annual Conference, support groups, Maybe Baby classes and social gatherings. RFDC became increasingly organized in our operation, including offering consistent, high quality programming, stable financials and processes.

    In 2011,  the volunteer Board sought out a new platform to provide the organization with a website and interactive functionality for members, plus handle administrative needs.    It was at this time RFDC was branded with a new tree logo, which would become a registered trademark of the organization.

    RFDC established some larger social events that evolved into annual programming. These events were the product of Board member’s visions. The Family Dance grew out of Ellen Kahn’s experience at a non-RFDC local Family Dance (at the Washington Ethical Society) and the recognition of a desire among LGBT families for such an event. RFDC’s Annual Visit to Cox Farms was initiated by Renee Bradley in recognition of the need for more events in Virginia and knowing Cox Farms had been an LGBT-inclusive leader in the region.  Our Family Camping Weekend was implemented after Richard Gervase was inspired after learning about weekend getaways held by other larger nonprofits.

    In addition to the RFDC initiated events, RFDC developed community partnerships to offer more events for LGBT families in Washington DC region. The Family Picnic at Hillwood Estates began after Hillwood reached out to RFDC and has been a valued tradition ever since.  Other organizations would recognize the celebratory nature of our gatherings and offer to host or sponsor events.

  • 2014 to Present

     

    Transition, Opportunity, Growth

    Pictured left:  Rainbow Families prepares for Capital Pride, 2019

    2014 was a year of transition.  Key board members –  Ellen Kahn, Renee Bradley and Rocky Galloway –  decided to step off the board.  Our long-serving part time staffer, Jen Riesch, also announced her retirement.   The Board vetted a number of new Board members, and redefined the role and responsibilities of the organization.

    In May 2015, RFDC welcomed six new board members, elected a new Board President, and hired a new part time staff person.   At this time, the “DC” moniker was removed to ensure that LGBTQ+ community members in DC/Maryland/Virginia would know our services and programs were available.

    In June 2018, Rainbow Families hired its first full-time Executive Director, Darren Vance.  Darren and the Board worked to expand our reach into greater and more diverse areas, plus add more advocacy, education, and events. Another initiative was to expand our services, to not only LGBTQ headed families, but all LGBTQ+ families.

    At this time Rainbow Families trademarked the Rainbow Families name, the ‘tree’ logo, and the Maybe Baby program.

    In March of 2020, with the onset of the devastating Covid-19 pandemic, all Rainbow Families programs moved online.  This included our first ever Virtual Family Conference – we were the first LGBTQ organization to take this risky leap forward.  It paid off.  We saw our largest attendance, and were able to now reach families across the country.   This national attention, related requests for our unique services, and increased talent with managing virtual programs, will remain an important element of Rainbow Families – even as we get back to in-person events.

    By January of 2021, Rainbow Families was reaching an average of 10,000 family members each month, through our membership and various communications channels.

Copyright 2020-2021 Rainbow Families, Maybe Baby, and the "Tree" logo are trademarks of Rainbow Families. Use of the Rainbow Families name, logo or product requires written authorization.