We are Family

In the 1980s, pop group Sister Sledge came out with a chart-topping single “We Are Family”. The song became an unofficial gay anthem, played and enthusiastically danced to in clubs catering to LGBTQIA+ populations (although, at the time, “gay” and sometimes “lesbian” were the only commonly used descriptors). The phrase, “...so, are they family?” became insider code to help identify community members. 

Emerson College, a medium-sized, private institution with popular film, theater, communication, and liberal arts programs has used this inside joke as the name of our LGBTQIA+ gathering each year during Family Weekend. Emerson typically ranks among the most LGBTQIA+ friendly campuses in the nation, and thus, having a gathering for families that identify with the community was an easy choice. The program started small, with less than 15 participants, but has grown in each of the 5 years it has been offered. This past year the group filled up our Cultural Center with a group of close to 40.  But numbers are not the most important measure--visibility is. Even just seeing the “We Are Family” event on the Family Weekend schedule is powerful. We’ve had families tell us that while they understood that their student was accepted at Emerson College, it wasn’t until they saw this event that they realized that their student was actually celebrated.

The program itself is relatively simple--space, food, and invitations. We invite staff members who identify with the LGBTQIA+ community to join us (which currently includes the chief Student Affairs officer). Our catering staff loves working with a rainbow theme and creates lovely charcuterie boards and dessert displays.

Our most recent gathering in October 2021, ended with tears--tears of joy coming from parents and families of LGBTQIA+ students after all the participants shared with the group the level of acceptance they felt at the College.

Maureen Hurley is an AHEPPP Board of Director and the Director of Student Transitions and Family Programs at Emerson College

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