Canada 2017·Future Now

Canada must keep expanding its notion of a 'normal' family

Mona Greenbaum, director of the LGBT Family Coalition, says Canadians are slowly but surely moving toward greater acceptance of the many ways families are formed.

My family went from unimaginable to average. I want the same for others.

When Mona Greenbaum, second from the right, and her partner Nicole Paquette started their family in Quebec, there was no legal framework acknowledging the legality and legitimacy of their family. (Mona Greenbaum)

Who among us is living like a person ahead of their time? And what might Canada need to do to catch up with them? Future Now is a series featuring individuals who are living their version of the Canadian future … today.

In the lead up to Montreal Pride, we hear from Mona Greenbaum, a trailblazer for same-sex parenting rights in Quebec. Now the director of the LGBT Family Coalition, Mona says Canadians are moving towards a greater understanding and acceptance of the many ways modern families are formed. 

As a same-sex couple living in Quebec in the 1990s, my partner Nicole and I experienced very little discrimination in our daily lives.

We were far from living in the closet, being out to our families and friends in our neighbourhood, as well as at work.

The fact that we were a little different from the average couple in our entourage was no big deal — until we decided to start a family.

A political journey

Greenbaum and Paquette helped change the way Quebec's Civil Code defined family. (Mona Greenbaum)

We knew, like any future parents, that having children would change our lives dramatically. What we didn't know was that our decision to have kids would also launch us on a political journey to change the way Quebecers understood what a family is.

The fact that we were a little different from the average couple in our entourage was no big deal — until we decided to start a family.

The first slap in the face came when we were unable to make an appointment at any of Montreal's fertility clinics because we weren't a married heterosexual couple.

The second slap came when we found out that it wouldn't be as easy as we had thought for Nicole, as a future non-biological mom, to be legally recognized as a parent. This issue was bigger than just Mona and Nicole and their kids.

What ensued was a five-year legal and political battle in family court — against Quebec's Attorney General and in front of Québec's National Assembly — to change the way the Civil Code defined family.

The LGBT Family Coalition was initially called l’Association des Mères Lesbiennes, the Lesbian Mothers Association. (Mona Greenbaum)

June 7, 2002, was an incredible day for us. On this day, our family, as well as a few other parents and kids, had the moving experience of watching as our elected officials voted unanimously to adopt a law that finally recognized families with same-sex parents as being just as important and legitimate as any other family in Quebec.

As far as I know, it was the first (and possibly the only) time that children were allowed to watch a vote unfold from the balconies of the blue room of the National Assembly. And so our kids have known, from a very early age, that everyday people, like their two moms and the parents of their friends, could fight for and obtain rights to make the world a bit of a better and more inclusive place.

Since the reform of the Civil Code, gays and lesbians have had the possibility in Quebec to start their families and have the same legal rights and protections as any other family in the province.

Even more importantly, these new laws paved the way for broader social acceptance.

From notorious to normal

Fifteen years later, what was almost unimaginable has become a common topic in daycares and elementary schools.

The majority of Quebec schoolchildren now know that, yes, some families have two moms or two dads, and that's normal. Because of this, new gay and lesbian parents can think about diapers and sippy cups rather than courts and public consultations.

My wife and I went on to found the LGBT Family Coalition in 1998.

What was controversial and scary for many people back in the 1990s has become part of the common fabric of Canadian society.

It started in our living room when our older son Léo was only 6-weeks-old. Almost twenty years later with the help of a number of Quebec ministries, we are able to carry out workshops across the province, training thousands of professionals about sexual and gender diversity, including family diversity.

As the director of this organization, it's fun for me to see that in many settings talking about families with same-sex parents has become almost old news.

What was controversial and scary for many people back in the 1990s has become part of the common fabric of Canadian society.

Paquette reads to kids at Quebec's National Assembly. (Mona Greenbaum)

New frontiers of family

As our two sons reach adulthood, many other positive changes have occurred across Canada. Our laws are beginning to catch up with the numerous creative ways that people start their families.

Both British Columbia and Ontario now recognize families with more than two parents: a gay couple with their surrogate or two lesbians and two gay men that decide to start a family together can now all be legally recognized as the child's parents, with all the rights and responsibilities that come with parenting.

Canadians are slowly but surely going towards a greater understanding and acceptance of the many and varied ways that families are formed.

In my organization, we now have transgender parents, queer parents, multi-parent families, co-parenting, families with polyamourous parents and parenting styles (like gender-neutral parenting) that are vastly different from what we were seeing before our kids were born.

We also have many families with trans and gender creative youth. Canadians are slowly but surely going towards a greater understanding and acceptance of the many and varied ways that families are formed.

And what is the common thread? Love, of course, and a desire to see our kids do well and be accepted for who they are and for the type of family that they come from.


Mona Greenbaum is the director of the LGBT Family Coalition. She is one of seven Canadians being honoured this year by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. She lives with her family in Montreal.


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