Pride 2017: OFC provides a lifeline for LGBTQ families
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As Renata Moreira, executive director of San Francisco-based Our Family Coalition said, empowering others and fighting against injustice is more than just her job, it's her calling. A calling she hopes will pave a road for a more accepting and inclusive society for her 1-year-old daughter, Mayla.
Our Family Coalition, or OFC, advances equity for LGBTQ families with children through support, education, and advocacy. It was formed in 2002 through a merger of Our Family, based in the East Bay, and All Our Families Coalition in San Francisco. Today, the agency has a vibrant presence throughout the Bay Area.
It serves about 2,800 community members annually through a variety of programs and is well known for its Family Gardens at local Pride events, including San Francisco Pride this weekend. OFC's annual budget was about $1.2 million in 2015, according to its annual report.
Moreira, 40, has dedicated almost half her life advancing equal opportunities for minority groups like women, immigrants, and LGBTQs. She herself is a member of all three.
Moreira's story begins in Brazil, where she grew up in a Catholic, conservative household, one not accepting of the queer community.
"I grew up experiencing a lot of homophobia and witnessing trans and biphobia, which was always a painful experience for me," she said. "At one time, I was voiceless, but once I found a voice I had to give that back and carve spaces for emerging leaders of the next generation to step into."
Her challenging upbringing inspired a career working with educational and nonprofit organizations focused on uplifting individuals and encouraging communities to unite.
Moreira has many accomplishments. After earning her master's degree in gender studies at City University of New York 20 years ago, Moreira has gone on to serve as a board member or director of many organizations supporting marginalized communities as well as teaching gender studies in universities throughout the nation.
After Moreira's partner (who asked that her name not be published) accepted a job in San Francisco five years ago, Moreira has served as a member of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission LGBTQ Advisory Committee and co-chaired the statewide Breakthrough Conversations Project while currently serving on the advisory board of the California Immigrant Policy Institute.
Her time with OFC began as a volunteer, which evolved into what Moreira called "a moral obligation to be in the front lines working for and with my people to push for radically inclusive spaces for marginalized folks."
As the executive director of OFC since January (she was previously interim executive director), Moreira has positively affected many lives.
One of those lives is that of Bob Hartnagel, a gay dad who worked for many years as chief of staff for gay former state Senator Mark Leno, now a San Francisco mayoral candidate. Hartnagel and Moreira met when she was the communications and policy director at OFC and he was spearheading an OFC event now known as "Egg Meets Sperm."
"Working with Renata is an uplifting experience," he said. "Her energy and charisma lights up the room and just draws you in."
It is because of this networking event, which pairs gay men eager to become dads with women looking for a donor or vice versa, that Hartnagel now has a 2-year-old daughter.
Hartnagel elaborated on the importance of the resources OFC provides like parenting support groups and advocacy work. In some states, same-sex couples still are denied adoption rights and birth certificates of their children, something that is at the forefront of Moreira's mind.
"She's an incredibly passionate activist working with community members on how to present in the capital and new ways that OFC can continue advocacy," Hartnagel said. "She just does such important work that needs to be done. The coalition reflects where our community is going and is a critical and important organization in our community today."
One of OFC's significant accomplishments was seeing passage in 2015 of Assembly Bill 960, the Equal Protection for All Families Act, by Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco). The law updated California's assisted reproduction laws to ensure that the law equally protects all families, including LGBT families. The coalition partnered with other organizations to co-sponsor the bill and rallied significant community support.
Becoming a mom
Moreira's own story of becoming a mother was also one influenced by OFC. After difficulties becoming pregnant and not having the support of her biological family, Moreira relied on the OFC community for support.
"On my journey to form my family, I had to rely on Our Family Coalition and other folks who went through it. I am grateful that Our Family Coalition has been around for 20 years so I didn't have to struggle in isolation,ï¿½ she said.
During that time, Moreira reached out to another OFC mother and friend, Celestina Pearl, a nurse in San Francisco. Pearl met Moreira when they were both working toward policy changes in City Hall as volunteers for OFC.
"The biggest thing I admire about Renata is her enthusiasm," said Pearl, who is also a parent leader for the queer family group at OFC. "She is very loving and big-hearted and always so upbeat, smiling and ready to give someone a hug."
Pearl said it is leaders like Moreira who motivate others to keep going. "The momentum that she keeps going on behalf of all of us is vital."
After Moreira had Mayla, the continuation to create a world where LGBT children are no longer bullied in school, and have more welcoming spaces for LGBT families, became even stronger.
Moreira talked about the desire for her daughter to be able to speak freely of her family without fear of discrimination, something that has improved in recent years due to the visibility of groups like OFC and greater acceptance of LGBT families by educators and straight allies.
"[Our children] have conditions around them in which their families are recognized and dignified which allows them to be allies for other communities," Moreira said about her daughter and other children of LGBT families.
Another OFC accomplishment Moreira spoke of was its role in the inception of the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful, or FAIR, Education Act, which requires social studies curricula in California public schools to include information about the contributions of LGBT people. Leno authored the bill in 2011 and it took effect in 2012.
The future for Moreira, who said, "We have a lot of work to do," will focus on the building of political power in a time of need, deepening community building, and, of course, attending Pride events this weekend. To Moreira, Pride is a time to share stories; something she said is the most impactful thing of all.
"We must continue to tell stories. National and global stories to open more hearts and minds to the LGBT community," she said. "To counteract the viscous narratives that say we are less than. We are beautiful and loving people."
For more information about Our Family Coalition, visit http://www.ourfamily.org.