Rainbow Families – Humble Beginnings
Late 1990s/Early 2000s
Rainbow Families DC began as an AOL Listserv established by Scott Davenport & Tim Fischer. Scott and Tim were pioneering gay dads, one of the earliest most visible gay male couples with kids in the area. They had a desire to connect with other LGBT families and began to sponsor social events either at their house or at local parks, skating rinks, etc. They maintained a growing list of families, most of which were based in NW DC and the Maryland suburbs. Scott and Tim established the AOL Listserv as a tool to help other LGBT parents find one another, to compile family’s contact information, and send information. This listserv was much more than simply a tool--it was the glue that connected the families which comprised the first chapter of Rainbow Families DC.
Whitman-Walker Clinic’s Lesbian Service Program
Late 1990s/Early 2000s
At the same time, Whitman-Walker Clinic (WWC) had a Lesbian Services Program where they offered Maybe Baby classes as well as educational and support groups primarily to women. Ellen Kahn, then Director of Whitman-Walker Clinic’s Lesbian Services Program and having had her first child with her partner in 1999, worked to expand LGBT family programs at WWC including more advocacy, men’s parent groups, and outreach to pediatricians, fertility clinics, and adoption agencies. A greater number of men were starting families mostly by surrogacy and international adoption and demand increased for a men’s Maybe Baby class.
Passing the Baton & Joining Forces
As Scott & Tim’s children got older, they wanted to find a way to keep RFDC going in the absence of their stead. Scott and Tim reached out to Ellen to see about passing RFDC to WWC. Ellen spoke with WWC’s leadership and with their support Rainbow Families DC became a part of WWC under Lesbian Services. The AOL listserv, the embodiment of RFDC, was passed onto its new home at WWC.
In 2003, RFDC held its first local conference with Aimee Gelnaw of Family Pride Coalition (now Family Equality Council) at Takoma Park Middle School. The conference became an annual event.
Laying the Foundations
In 2005, WWC was going through transition as a federally-qualified health center, and it was facing financial challenges. 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. Ellen sought and received approval from WWC’s leadership to move RFDC and its associated programming with Ellen. It was then that Ellen embarked on the work to establish RFDC as its own entity. At the time, RFDC was one of just a few LGBT 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 all volunteer led with programs similar to RFDC today. After the 2006 conference, the board decided to shift the conference to a biannual event.
In 2007, RFDC transitioned from the AOL listserv to a new platform called Big Tent. Prior to this transition, there was not a defined structure to membership in RFDC. Big Tent allowed RFDC to implement and manage RFDC membership and the associated member fees.
In June 2008, RFDC received its official nonprofit status as a 501(c)3 organization.
Establishing RF in the Community
During this period, RFDC continued to operate the programming it had become known in the community and region for - the conference, support groups, Maybe Baby classes, and social gatherings. RFDC became increasingly organized in its operation, including consistently offering high quality programming, stable financials, regular staff assistance, and establishing a web presence.
In 2010, the Board realized that Big Tent no longer met the needs of RFDC and did not have the functionality RFDC needed at this point in time. RFDC did not have a website or web presence, it only had functionality to maintain membership and collect dues.
In 2011, RFDC, led by the efforts of its volunteer Board, transitioned from Big Tent to a new platform, MemberClicks. MemberClicks enabled RFDC to have a web presence with additional interactive functionality for members. It also fulfilled many administrative needs for the organization with regards to membership, communications, and donations. It was also at this time that RFDC “re-branded” itself with a new logo, designed by Mike Heffner, our longstanding “pro bono” graphic designer and RFDC member.
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. Camp Weekend was implemented after Richard Gervase was inspired after learning about the weekend getaways being held by other larger organizations.
In addition to the RFDC initiated events, RFDC developed community partnerships to offer more events for LGBT families in the region. The Family Picnic at Hillwood Estates began after Hillwood reached out to RFDC, and RFDC worked with Hillwood to help shape it into the event it is today. It was in 2013 when the Gay Day at Hillwood was merged with a late summer Family Picnic RFDC typically held. Other partnerships have included theater outings in partnership with Adventure Theater, Gay Day at the Zoo with Capital Pride, and participation in the Pride Parade with HRC.
At a Board Retreat in 2012, the RFDC Board of Directors established what continues to be the organization’s current committee structure with four standing committees: Executive, Programming, Finance/Fundraising, and Membership/Outreach/Communications. These are in addition to the Conference Committee formed during biannual conference years.
A Time of Transition & Opportunity
It marked a year of transition in 2014 as two key board members -- Renee Bradley and Rocky Galloway -- decided to step off the board and our long serving board president, Ellen Kahn, decided to phase out her board involvement. Renee and Rocky had been responsible for the programming, the hallmark of RFDC. The Board spent 2014 preparing for this transition. To add to the transition, RFDC long serving staffer, Jen Riesch, retired after four years of service. In preparation, the Board vetted a number of new Board members, and redefined the role and responsibilities of the RFDC staff position.
In May 2015, RFDC welcomed six new board members, elected a new Board President, and hired a Director of Community Engagement & Program Coordination. Shortly after, Rainbow Families dropped the "DC" moniker, to ensure that the LGBTQ+ community members throughout our greater region would know our services and programs were for them as well.
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 target is to serve not only LGBTQ+ headed families, but families with LGBTQ+ family members as well. At this time Rainbow Families trademarked the Rainbow Families name, the 'tree' logo, and the Maybe Baby program.