1. Kelli O'Donnell and Gregg Kaminsky of R Family with Philadelphia Mayor John Street. 2. Anthony with his aunt's idol, Rosie O'Donnell. 3. Ryan, Ben Franklin and Anthony. 4. Getting his history straight: Anthony with aunts Tracy and Jean at the Liberty Bell. 5. His dream team, Andrew, Ryan, John and Anthony. 6. One of Anthony "Top Pick" moments ( see below ) . Photos by Tracy Baim and Anthony Pulford. _________
Periodically, cities host journalists in what they call a 'fam' trip, or familiarization. They fly reporters in for a few days to visit traditional tourist attractions, and for the GLBT media, some special gayborhoods, bars, restaurants, and historic areas.
On the second weekend of March, the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation ( GPTMC ) hosted what could be called a 'fam fam' trip, one promoting the city for families, coinciding with R Family Vacations' first 'land-based' mini-vacation for GLBT families and allies.
R Family was started by former Chicagoan Kelli O'Donnell and Gregg Kaminsky, with support from Kelli's partner, Rosie O'Donnell, who made a special brief appearance at one of the weekend events. 'Rosie's R Family Vacations' was promoted by the city and the media during the weekend, including a press conference with the mayor, governor and other elected officials.
The Philly tourism folks have created ground-breaking GLBT marketing campaigns, including TV ads to 'Get Your History Straight and Your Nightlife Gay.' With this families promotion, they are branching further into segments of the GLBT community that are lesser served, especially alternative families. The weekend featured about 200 people from across the U.S., including lesbian moms and gay dads, extended families, adoptive and birth parents, grand parents, and supportive non-parents.Read more story below....
My partner Jean and I used my 10-year-old nephew Anthony as camouflage, entering 'Another Country' of GLBT life, one I usually just cover, not feel a part of. It validated our own decision not to have children, but it also provided greater insight into the joys and challenges of parenthood in the gayby boom days. One other journalist brought her partner and young daughter, while others fit in by acting like good aunts and uncles to the ever-morphing broods of children under foot. It is exhausting just being an aunt, and I got a taste of the anxieties and responsibilities of full parenthood. Skip ahead to the important part: I got my nephew home in one piece.
Our first day on the fam trip, prior to R Family events, was more basic fam fanfare, with a visit to the world's oldest annual operating flower show, The Philadelphia Flower Show, which had a special focus on Ireland, and then the King Tut exhibit at The Franklin Institute, which has other ongoing exhibits fun for kids.
The flower show was in a large convention hall with competitions for various types of gardening. The smells and sights were beautiful, something even a 10-year-old boy could get his senses around, so much so that he wanted to be the designated photographer for this part of the tour. His first photo credits and writing assignment at age 10I guess I am rubbing off on him, as that was also the first age I had a byline, in the Chicago Defender writing about kids consumer issues.
The Tut exhibit is a bit stifling with winding dark rooms where you feel pressured to keep moving among a swarm of students, but it was still great to catch since I missed it during its Chicago visit last summer ( I was a bit busy with a certain sporting event ) . The glorious decorative furniture and art are a sight to behold in person, and the rest of The Franklin Institute provided a more hands-on approach to learning. It's not quite the Museum of Science and Industry ( what is? ) , but it is still a fun day out with the younger set.
We experienced different cuisine and clubs in Philly, but having a child in tow meant Jean and I had to take shifts at which establishment we could go to, and we were not partying late into the night with the other journalists. It provided us with a nice excuse, since we likely wouldn't have lasted that late regardless of having Anthony. Saturday night featured a Mr. Gay competition attended by writer Michael Musto, Reichen Leimkuhl, Sirius Satellite Radio Out Q's Frank DeCaro, and others, and the city's gay bars welcomed the out-of-towners with open arms and warm smiles.
The R Family events started officially on Friday night at the Hyatt Regency Hotel at Penn's Landing, where most participants were staying. It's a nice hotel but they were not prepared for all those kids or even adultstheir elevators simply could not handle the capacity. There was a press conference proclaiming R Family Day in Philly, with Kelli and Gregg accepting the proclamation from Mayor John Street as well as a photo depicting the Philly skyline lit up reading a welcome to the company. Philly tourism people discussed their ideas on reaching out to the community, as well as their success and awards for the efforts. Gov. Ed Rendell expressed his support of the community, as did other politicians.
Saturday was when the real fun kicked in for the kidsstarting in the hotel lobby where families mingled. While some knew each other from past cruises, many were new to R Family. Fortunately, there were parents used to navigating the social circles for their kids, and one Indiana mom helped bring a scrum of 10-year-old boys together, despite their equivocation, and ended up cementing the 'dream team' for the weekend, including my nephew Anthony, Ryan from New York, John from Indiana, and Andrew also from New York, plus a few tag-a-longs.
I could tell the difference in Anthony right away. Whereas the previous night he swam alone at one end of the pool, all day he and his friends found things to do together, whether it was at the National Constitution Center watching the holograms and photo shows, writing with feathers or playing a kid-size dice game, or posing for a photo in front of the Liberty Bell. They got bored together at Independence Hall, and ran and posed on the historic lawns. Anthony also got to mix it up with actors playing various historic figures. Hotel swimming was probably the highlight of the day, as now there were other boys to rough-house with. For a 10-year-old boy whose aunt publishes a gay newspaper, the GLBT thing really has no relevancewhat he cared about was playing with his peers, regardless of who their parents are. Children don't usually care about sexual orientation and Anthony has always accepted Jean and I as a couple.
After the swim, it was off to bowling night. Despite massive Saturday night traffic jams that kept even Rosie off the lanes, everyone eventually made it to the Strikes Bowling Lanes safely. There was food, games, and bowling shiftsand trying to be incognito in the corner, there was Rosie. Many of the R Family veterans already knew how to act non-chalant around Rosie making an appearance. But I had coached Anthony all week to introduce himself and say 'Trump's a Chump' ( aka Donald Trump is a Chump for his comments about Rosie ) if we were able to meet her. We did, he did, and we snapped a quick shot of Anthony with my idol, even if he had to be forced to watch The View a few times to know who she is. Sometimes 10-year-old boys do things to amuse their aunts as payback for all those late-night basketball games.
Bowling was quick since things were running late, but the boys had fun. We bowled next to Jennifer Chrisler and Cheryl Jacques and their broodChrisler is executive director of Family Pride and Jacques is former executive director of the Human Rights Campaign. Family Pride works in conjunction with R Family, providing educational components to their vacations.
The return to the hotel was just as adventurous as getting there; Anthony rode back with Ryan and his mom and her partner, but Jean and I squeezed into a car driven by R Family's Michael Lee Scott, plus two dads and their six-year-old son. The banter between our driver and the boy was precious and should have been recorded for a TV show. Both were hilarious and quick-witted, and the saying 'out of the mouths of babes' was never more right-on. A sample: 'You know, men can wear pink' to the pink-wearing driver; or 'I am way too into fashion' for his age. It gave us an urge to try and go on one of the R Family Cruises, with our camouflage, maybe next year. Kids raised in non-traditional families may not all be open-minded and well-behaved, but their own lives at least force them to think outside the box and perhaps ultimately be more interesting. Many play right into gender role stereotypes, while others clearly move to their own drummer, guitarist and trumpet player.
Back at the hotel, the Dream Team boys ran circles on the second floor while the 'moms' ( Jean and I not quite fitting that title ) and one dad all watched and chatted, comparing notes about raising boys. The fun and chase stopped when the noise was too loud for fellow guests, and the boys parted for the night, agreeing to meet for swimming early the next morning.
Sunday's event was a brunch at the hotel ( no shuttle worries, just being patient with the elevators ) . The food was great and the entertainment was right from Broadway, literally, as Rosie's stage friends provided amazing vocal treats. The singers were: Brandi Massey ( from Wicked ) , Joy Hermalyn ( from Fiddler on the Roof ) , Paul Castree ( from All Shook Up and Grease ) , Anika Larsen ( from Rent and All Shook Up ) , Michael Lee Scott, and Leo Daignault ( from Avenue Q ) .
The Dream Team sat together with their parents at two tables, and were still instigating trouble with Ben Franklin and pals. They ran the halls and tried not to be too sad at losing their connections so soon after meeting. The guardians exchanged e-mails, but getting 10-year-olds to communicate regularly in person is hard enough, e-mail may not cut it. There's always the next R Family events, to re-start the Dream Team, or recruit new players.
It was off the airport from the brunch. The whirlwind three days provided a wide range of experiences, from the very gay to the oh-so-straight-seeming. The We Are Everywhere slogan fit, but also the We Can Be Anywhere. From upstate New York to Northern Indiana, Salt Lake City to New Mexico, and cruising on the high seas, GLBT families are staking new ground in our consciousness and our society. Some are battling homophobia and custody issues, some just trying to conceive children after years of attempts. All power to them. It's a heavy burden to bear, and we were blessed with visiting their country for a few days.
Thanks, Anthony, for providing the 'cover.'
Anthony's Top Picks
By Anthony NICHOLAS Pulford
I forced my nephew to tell a bit about his Philly experiencesafter all, he did miss school for this. He may not need the tax write-off, but he did get to visit important national historic sites that I didn't get to see until I was in my 40s.
1 ) Meeting my 'Dream Team.'
2 ) Getting to be in the cockpit of the American Airlines flight on the way to Philly. A chance invitation from the very nice pilot.
3 ) Swimming, swimming, swimming.
4 ) The escalators at the hotelrunning down in reverse.
5 ) Playing late Saturday night with the Dream Team in the hotel, running around and causing trouble.
6 ) Goofing with Ben Franklin and other costumed historic figures.
7 ) The games at the Franklin Institute.
8 ) The flower show.
9 ) Co-piloting the van driving the journalists around town.
10 ) The Target store where they had different Pokémon cards than Chicago's Near South store.
As you can see, just like when the gift box is more fun than the toy inside, the kids usually find a way to have fun regardless of the 'educational' activities planned. But without his dream team, I don't think Anthony would have had near as much fun in Philly. If you have kids, find a way to take them on an R Family experience, whether on land or by sea.
In the Know ...
R Family Vacations:
Bermuda Cruise July 7-14, 2007, http:// www.rfamilyvacations.com/
April 30-May 6, 2007
Events include award to Martina Navratilova, GALA chorus concert, workshops and more.
The Philadelphia Flower Show, March 2-9, 2008, with a 'Jazz it Up' theme, www.theflowershow.com .
The Franklin Institute, including Tutankhamun and The Golden Age of the Pharoahs, through Sept. 30, 2007, www.fi.edu
National Constitution Center
Independence National Historic Park
See gophila.com or the Philadelphia Gay News for resources of hot clubs, restaurants, and tourist attractions.