As I write, I have just finished reading about Trevor MacDonald, a transgender breastfeeding father. He corresponded with La Leche League (LLL) here in Canada about becoming a leader. I read an article on the CBC website. From there, I visited Trevor’s blog, Milk Junkies, and found a copy of his letter to LLL and their response. I also read a comment from Fiona Audy, chair of the La Leche League Canada Board and a past guest on my podcast. I have to say, I am very disappointed in LLL at this moment.
My summary of the situation is this: Trevor, who was born a biological woman, now identifies as a man. However, he still has a female reproductive system, and he became pregnant. He first attended a LLL meeting when he was expecting. Having had most of his breast tissue removed, he was concerned about breastfeeding. He credits the information and support he received through LLL with helping him to breastfeed his child, who is now a toddler. Like many other parents who have found help through LLL, he wants to pay that forward by becoming a volunteer leader. However, the organization has said that’s not possible. Here is an excerpt from their letter, as posted on Trevor’s website:
Our policies do preclude men from becoming Leaders. LLLC Policy states:
4.14 MEN AS LEADERS
Since an LLLC Leader is a mother who has breastfed a baby, a man cannot become an LLLC Leader. (March 1994)
Like Trevor, I love La Leche League, and the work they do. When I stumbled into my first meeting when my daughter Hannah was just a couple of months old, it felt as if I had come home. I credit the information and support I received there with being able to establish a successful breastfeeding relationship. But more than that, I found many friends at LLL. For more than seven years, I attended meetings at least once a month. The group has played a significant role in my personal parenting journey.
As I understand it, LLL’s objections stem from the fact that the organization’s philosophies are based around mothering through breastfeeding. Leaders are expected to live in a way that represents those philosophies. As well, leaders must have breastfed their babies themselves. However, it seems clear to me that these philosophies and policies were written at a time when no one would have believed that a man could become pregnant or breastfeed. Transgender issues simply weren’t on anyone’s radar. Modifying the language to be gender inclusive, while retaining the requirement that a leader be a parent who has breastfed a baby, would be in the spirit of the policies in my mind.
One of the issues that LLL raised in their response letter, as posted on Trevor’s website, is that some women may be uncomfortable receiving breastfeeding support from a man. They say that a leader must be able to help all women with breastfeeding. This seems patently unfair to me, because it places the onus on a potential leader to be non-offensive. Would we respond in the same way if, for instance, a woman of one race was uncomfortable receiving help from a woman of another race? What about if a potential leader had a lot of tattoos? Those make some people uncomfortable. What if she had a disability? While a mother certainly has the right to seek support from someone she can communicate effectively with, it’s discriminatory to exclude someone from a volunteer role simply because someone else may be uncomfortable.
This is the crux of things for me. I understand that Trevor’s application is pushing the boundaries, so to speak. I understand that some people hold strongly-held beliefs around gender and sexual orientation, and may struggle to receive support from Trevor. If that’s the case, I would hope that they would contact another leader. But this doesn’t change the fact that a secular group that seeks to be welcoming to all breastfeeding parents must be prepared to adapt. If you believe breastfeeding is important, then it’s important for all babies, not just for babies with parents you approve of. You simply cannot say that you’re supporting LGBT parents, while excluding them from certain roles. That’s not a supportive action.
As I said, I love LLL. I value the work that the organization does to provide free, research-based breastfeeding support and information. But I know that one negative experience with an organization can taint someone’s opinion forever. When I’ve written about LLL in the past, I’ve heard many stories about leaders who said or did the wrong thing at a time when a mother was feeling particularly vulnerable. I’ve heard about leaders who weren’t welcoming, or who didn’t provide the information a parent was looking for. It’s terribly unfortunate when that happens, and I fear this decision may have the same effect. Many people may read it and wrongly believe that if they call their local leader they will be met with closed-mindedness or judgment. And so, today I am disappointed with the stance that LLL has taken. I dearly hope that they will reconsider it.
UPDATED: Both La Leche League Canada and La Leche League International are now reviewing their policies with an eye to Trevor’s situation. While this is hardly a solution, I’m choosing to view this as a positive step, and I’m hoping that something good comes out of it. You can read the official statements online.