FIRA People Profile: Parent Educator Chris VeldehovenThinking about and supporting gay men in becoming and being fathers is not new to Chris Veldhoven. The Toronto-based parent educator, activist and partner in FIRA's Gay/Bi/Queer fathers research cluster is himself the son of a gay dad. As Chris puts it, gay parenting issues have been " simply part of my life." The Amherst Nova Scotia home of Chris's father and partner (together now for 33 years) became known as a safe, supportive place for gay people (and their heterosexual friends) to hang out and be themselves. "I met all kinds of fascinating people there," says Veldhoven, who himself came out at age 17.
Chris became involved in various projects and groups working on anti-homophobic, anti-racist and anti-misogynist issues while studying psychology and drama at Queen's University, in Kingston. Since 1989 he has worked on LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) issues both professionally and as a volunteer. His work has included running peer support groups, organizing educational events, training sessions and lectures, assessing community needs, and working with a variety of media. Clients have included police, community services, faculties of education, schools, and health services.
In 2003, Veldhoven brought his considerable educational and advocacy skills to Toronto's 519 Church Street Community Centre, known for it's services to the LGBT community. He started out as an contract parent educator, and since 2005 he has served as coordinator of Queer Parenting Programs, which includes the Daddies and Papas 2B program, North America's first program for gay men considering parenthood, Daddy, Papa and Me, a monthly drop-in for gay fathers and their children and the Queer Parenting Exchange, a monthly discussion forum for LGBT parents and prospective parents.
In 2004, Rachel Epstein, leader of FIRA's Gay Fathers cluster, invited Chris to become one of the cluster's community partners. He assisted with questionnaire development, recruitment of research participants, identification of emerging themes and outreach. Veldhoven has made presentations about the cluster's work in parenting course, at legal clinics as well as at North America's first-ever academic conference on LGBT parenting, held in Philadelphia in the summer of 2006.
"The main thing I'm trying to do is help people achieve their dreams of being a parent by helping them work through some of the negative beliefs that many people hold about gay, lesbian and trans parents," Chris explains. "I'm also trying to educate the community at large to the idea that sexual orientation and gender identity does not determine one's ability to be a great parent."