BY EMILINA MINERO
Traditional family. Traditional marriage. We hear these terms hurled in protest against us. Traditional is a misnomer. It’s used in place of heterosexual. There is no traditional, heterosexual or same-sex, marriage or family. Like people, all families and the ways in which we get married are diverse and unique. The modern day family and marriage reflects that diversity.
Shay and Yolanda Franco-Clausen are one example of modern day love. Four months after same-sex marriage became legal in California they got married, surrounded by their three kids, best friends and family.
Shay and Yolanda are great examples of what love looks like. They founded PlayNice Productions in 2013, a nonprofit that creates inclusive LGBTQ events open to the whole community.
Under the umbrella of PlayNice, they also developed the P.L.A.Y.C.E. Bay Area Community program and the Nice Play Youth Basketball program. P.L.A.Y.C.E. stands for People Living As Your Community Examples. It’s an outreach program that has already implemented adopt a family, beach and neighborhood clean ups and #TheGivingProject. Nice Play Youth Basketball is a six week little to no cost basketball camp for kids to teach leadership skills, provide a safe space and bring kids together to create and foster friendships.
Shay and Yolanda are active community members and one example of what a loving family looks like. We got to chat with Shay about her wedding and the importance that family and community play in her life.
How did you feel when you heard same-sex marriage became legal in California? How did the ban on same-sex marriage impact you?
My older brother called me at 6am, June 26, he said, and I quote, “Hey sis, you and that sexy lady of yours can get married now!” It meant so much to us because if anything would happen to one of us, like so many other same-sex couples, we have no legal rights to all we have worked hard to create together. We refused to get married in other states that it was illegal in, so when Prop 8 was taken down, we just cried and cried. Finally, I can marry the woman of my dreams. The day we found out that same-sex marriage had been legalized we felt that we were one step closer to being an actual part of the larger community, the everyone community.
How did it feel to have your kids be part of your bridal party and to have them not only be an integral part in your wedding, but to be able to witness and experience your wedding day with you?
This day was long awaited for them. They knew our fight, as they face their own discrimination for having same-sex parents. The whole day they cried with lots of emotions, as they are advocates for equality, just like their moms. The feelings that were behind our wedding and having our kids witnessing it, as parents, is hard to describe. We are the luckiest parents because our kids can see the relationship that we have without any bias.
You were going to get married on the old Bay Bridge before it got destroyed. What significance did that have for you?
Unfortunately, the vandalism that happened three days before our wedding stopped that from happening. However, the designer of the bridge and his wife surprised us with a tugboat decorated with trees, rose petals and crew. So we got married under it with San Francisco in our background. We did have lots of trips on the bridge, which we will hold close to us. It’s a part of our history and of our wedding. It was significant because we were able to get married in a place that others won’t be able to replicate. It was amazing to know that our wedding will always carry a story.
What tips do you have for other same-sex couples planning their wedding?
Find the venue first. Use all your resources, meaning friends and connections. You never know who may have a yacht, mansion or space you can get for as little as nothing. Check Facebook. One tip that I would share with same-sex couples is that it is the most beautiful day so make sure you are surrounded by people who love you because you will want to look back on the day you married your wife or husband.
Family and community are hugely important to you both. What about family and fostering community and inclusivity impassions you and how does that show through in your work with PlayNice Productions?
I think for me, being a child at-risk and not having any opportunities or role models in my family. Being one in the community makes me feel like I am there for many teens who were lost like I was. We are creating spaces that people can feel welcome and at home at. This is why we created PlayNice Productions because this is our opportunity to teach people how to play nice. We create a “safe social space,” the words my wife uses, so those who feel trapped into exclusivity can find a place to be among people, no matter their gender, color or social class.
Tell me more about the concept behind People Living As Your Community Examples and what you hope to achieve with PlayNice Productions?
It is a program that takes in people from diverse backgrounds and different community members and brings them together to make a positive impact. The impact will not only help people in need, but it will also help people see and accept the diverse people that are offering community services.
Most recently, we adopted families for Christmas. People came together and donated many different resources and gifts to go to the diverse families who were elected by the community. We believe that we can help people find new ways to contribute to their communities and help it diversify and strengthen. We want to create leaders of tomorrow and reach out to at-risk teens and young adults that need to find a community effort to affiliate themselves with, at the same time teaching those leaders acceptance and the power of positivity.
You were recently chosen to be YMCA’s family for their first LGBTQ National Marketing Campaign. How does that feel? What impact do you think your family and this campaign will make?
YMCA is our local family gym. It is our recreation league, and our family’s little connection to other families. We volunteer as coaches. We teach Zumba, teach PE at some of their elementary schools and are really proactive to helping. I think that our family wasn’t accepted by the gym goers immediately, but because parents, kids, members and staff have seen all the work that we do there everyone had to recognize that we may not be seen as a traditional family, but we are a family who cares. We were mentioned by one of the staff members as a candidate that they should consider, and we ultimately became their family of choice.
The impact is something that is the most rewarding part. Our family is a multi-racial, multi-cultural, wide-age range family that will be seen on national ads. Our family of two moms raising three bi-racial kids in the Silicon Valley is still able to get up every day, handle all the traditional tasks of any family, raise wonderful, intelligent kids, start a nonprofit, donate additional time to other nonprofits and still be successful as a family that is never seen as successful or ever been represented. Our kids and kids that are like ours with two same-sex parents will be able to look at a commercial or a billboard and possibly see our faces, our family and know that they are not alone, and that they are not weird. [We could] possibly inspire others, and [help them] know that they can even go beyond their day-to-day and make a positive change as a non-traditional family.