Lesbian and gay families from Victoria and the rest of Australia will converge on Melbourne next week for the third Rainbow Families conference.

The two-day conference, starting Saturday 16 September, will provide information and workshops for gay and lesbian parents and their kids, as well as for prospective parents.

The workshops will give participants a chance to speak about their own experiences and ask for advice, something a lot of same-sex parent families don’t get much opportunity to do.

Sharing experiences is particularly important for the children, according to conference co-chair Ruth McNair.

We’ve got a program for school-aged children, where they can chat about their families, McNair said.

We’re finding more and more kids are coming to these conferences. Some of them want to talk about the experience of having a gay dad, for example, and they need an opportunity to do that.

Out of the 200 or so people expected to attend the conference, at least 20 will be children.

Other workshops will look at various parenting options, such as foster care and co-parenting, how to deal with schools and how to build resilience in children.

Some of the most popular workshops in the past had been the legal sessions, McNair said. This year they would include issues such as how to make arrangements with sperm donors, dealing with the family court to get parenting orders for the non-birth parents, and how to resolve family disputes.

Interest in the event, organised by the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, had grown over the last few years as more and more couples realised parenting was an option.

Younger gay and lesbian people are more aware of kids, it’s on their radar. A few years ago gay people thought it wasn’t possible. Whereas now, because it’s being discussed more, they’re talking about having children by the time they’re having their first relationship, she said.

The conference will see the launch of the Rainbow Families Council of Victoria which will run future events, do some political lobbying and present a face for gay and lesbian families, McNair said. One of their first tasks will be to organise a national conference scheduled for next year.

The Rainbow Families Conference will be held on Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 September at The Centre, 275 Upper Heidelberg Road, Ivanhoe, Victoria. For more information see www.rainbowfamilies.org.au or call 0414 484 438.

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