Photo of Rainbow Families


It takes an LGBTQ+ village: the story of Rainbow Families
June 14, 2021

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There are many questions and concerns a new or prospective parent might have about growing their family. A prospective parent identifying as LGBTQ+ will likely have even more questions or concerns and the answers may be harder to find in mainstream parental courses or prospective parent literature. It may also be hard to find others going through the same journey, who can provide support and understanding throughout the process of growing their family. Some of these questions might include fertility options for same gender or gender nonconforming people; guidance on “coming out” to your children; finding competent, affirming medical providers; finding a skilled attorney who understands the ins and outs of protecting the rights of “non-traditional” families legally. This is precisely where Rainbow Families steps in.

In the 40 years since their founding, Rainbow Families has built a proud legacy of programs to support LGBTQ+ families, parents, and prospective parents. Supported by members, community sponsors, private and public grants, and foundations, Rainbow Families has introduced programs such as Maybe Baby, a multi-week education course for prospective LGBTQ+ parents. These programs provide needed resources for the LGBTQ+ community: created by the community for the community.

“Regularly I hear from our members, and the LGBTQ+ family community at large, how important our work is to them,” said Darren Vance, he/him/his, Executive Director of Rainbow Families. “Certainly, people can learn about adoption, or how to set up an estate plan; or programs to help cope with the loss of a pregnancy, or an adoption falling through. But most are based on a heteronormative paradigm. Rainbow Families provides safe, informed, judgement free spaces, and allows our community to ask questions or seek guidance they might not otherwise feel comfortable doing. Or if they did, it’s likely people wouldn’t understand our situations or know how to help.”
Rainbow Families is still a relatively small organization but with strong values. It was important to them to find business partners and vendors that shared their values around LGBTQ+ rights and inclusion. When Darren came on as Executive Director of Rainbow Families, he made it an explicit policy to patronize businesses with stated LGBTQ+ inclusion policies and set out to meet all partners and vendors.

“When I met with our banker at the time and asked to see their diversity and inclusion policies, I was met with a blank stare,” said Darren. “I immediately sought to find a banking partner whose values were synchronous with ours. Three days later, I was introduced to someone from Amalgamated Bank who was telling me (without knowing my position or banking needs) of his pride for his employer’s values and mission, and how these core beliefs were practiced—not just put on the letterhead. I switched the next business day.”

In the years that followed, Amalgamated provided financial advice and support through several challenges and obstacles. “We were advised on how to manage our legacy/emergency funds, and I never felt the advice was cloaked under a sales perspective,” said Darren. “We’re a tiny customer to Amalgamated but are never treated as such.”

Throughout the pandemic, Amalgamated also helped Rainbow Families with their PPP loan application to get them through the difficult financial period.

“With our already very lean budget, having some emergency reserves, extreme belt tightening, PPP assistance, not to mention amazing financial support from the community, we were able to manage through the pandemic - we acknowledge what an honor this is, and how so many of our nonprofit colleagues struggled, or worse did not make it through,” said Darren.

Rainbow Families hosts an Annual Family Conference, the first conference dating back to 2003. The conference consists of two full days of workshops, discussions, community-building, and connections, an expo of LGBTQ+ affirming service providers and businesses, kids’ programs, and more. Last year, with the COVID-19 pandemic, Rainbow Families was able to quickly pivot from a planned in-person conference to a fully virtual conference, being one of the first organizations like theirs to do so, resulting in their highest attended conference ever.

With the success of this event in mind and the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rainbow Families has moved all their educational programming online which has helped them grow to reach a much wider audience.

“People started engaging with us from across the country, particularly areas where services, support, even mere acceptance of LGBTQ+ families, is limited - or nonexistent,” said Darren. With the mission in mind of supporting as many LGBTQ+ families as possible, the Rainbow Families team decided to prioritize this expansion and is actively seeking out potential partnerships and funding to open more chapters of the organization across the country, expanding beyond its Washington D.C. headquarters.

In three years, Rainbow Families membership has grown 18%, and engagement through social media and all channels now reaches up to 12,000 per month, nearly a tenfold increase. Rainbow Families has also been recognized by the Catalogue for Philanthropy as ‘One of the Best Non Profits’ for 2019, 2020, 2021.

As the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic begins to dwindle, Rainbow Families plans to maintain some digital services and programming but is excited to bring back traditional outings and in-person gatherings, such as the annual family camping weekends, retreats to Great Wolf Lodge, and even neighborhood-level playdates, picnics and outings to connect families and provide children the opportunity to be around other families like theirs—and know they’re not alone.

“Parents often tell us how important these gatherings have been to their child’s sense of self and development,” said Darren. He shared with us a testimonial from a long-time member:

“My family is grateful for all the amazing Rainbow Families’ programs and activities. My husband and I started our parenting journey at the annual family conference over ten years ago and have attended every one since.  We took the Maybe Baby class, joined the adoption support groups and have loved meeting other families at the dances and special outings each year. It is a great honor to be a sponsor of this wonderful organization. Thank you!”  -  David Hish, President, Koons Honda Buick GMC

As Rainbow Families continues its expansion to help LGBTQ+ parents and families across the country, they continue to face the challenge of being a small grass-roots nonprofit having to compete for attention and funding with other nonprofits with million-dollar budgets and entire teams of fundraising experts.

“In order to move to the next level—to serve more members in the LGBTQ+ family community—we will require next level funding,” said Darren. “With just two staff and a host of devoted volunteers, this is indeed a challenge. But we will get there."

For our part, Amalgamated stands firmly behind Rainbow Families in their growth and expansion and hopes to continue playing a role in bringing its mission to fruition.