Update, May 2016: LLL changed its policy about the eligibility of
Leader Applicants in 2014 to be inclusive of transgender people. Trevor became accredited as a Leader in May, 2016.
Following my previous post, many people have asked to read what La Leche League actually wrote to me and their reasons for stating that I cannot become a leader. After some careful thought, I've decided to post the full text of LLL's response, as well as the letter I'd written hoping to convince them. In reading, please remember this: I LOVE La Leche League
. Its books, meetings and online resources made breastfeeding possible for me. My experiences with my local LLL chapter have been fantastic and I am extremely grateful for this.
It seems that the decision regarding my leadership application comes down to policy: "Since an LLLC leader is a mother who has breastfed a baby, a man cannot become an LLLC Leader." I understand that I don't fit into LLL's definition here, I just think that their definition is poor. I believe that the point of the above statement is that in order to be a leader, you must have breastfed a baby for a certain length of time. It is your experience that counts in peer-to-peer support. At the time the policy was written, the authors assumed that men wouldn't/couldn't breastfeed, so they defined a leader as a woman. I kinda doubt that many people envisioned my own scenario. I think that the interpretation of the policy should evolve.
If you believe that LLL needs to change its policies in order to become more inclusive, please consider writing to the LLL board with your concerns. Don't simply withdraw your support from the organization – there are TONS of amazing, forward-thinking Leaders. Let's not forget about them and the great work they do!
Here is the first response LLL sent to me
Firstly I want to thank you for your interest in leadership, in sharing your experience with mothers and in expanding the reach of LLL in the community. Your contribution to the Group is clearly greatly valued. Thank you also for your patience while I consulted with members of the Boards of La Leche League Canada (LLLC) and La Leche League International (LLLI).
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)
The wording echoes LLLI policy:
Leader Eligibility - (second paragraph) Since an LLL Leader is a mother who has breastfed a baby, a man cannot become an LLL Leader.
LLLI's policies and mission statement consistently speak of Leaders as mothers, giving mother-to-mother support.
There are also Concept Policy Statements which include the mother/baby relationship and the father's role. The Concept Policy Statement on the father's role speaks of "... understanding of the father's role, not as a mother substitute, but as a unique figure in the baby's life."
You told me that you do not identify as a mother. You are your baby's father. According to LLL philosophy the roles of mothers and fathers are not interchangeable. I think that this would make it difficult for you to represent LLL philosophy. You acknowledge that some women may not be comfortable working with a male Leader. A Leader needs to be able to help all women interested in breastfeeding. Fathers are able to help in other ways, for example an informed LLL father who is supportive of LLL philosophy might present a fathers' meeting.
I'd also like to share with you some of the wording of LLLI's policy on donated milk:
A Leader shall never initiate the suggestion of an informal milk-donation arrangement or act as an intermediary in such a situation. If a mother wishes to discuss these options – which may include donating expressed milk, wet-nursing or cross-nursing – the Leader’s role is to provide information about the benefits and risks, as mentioned above, including the limitations of home sterilization of expressed breast milk.
This would mean that a La Leche League Leader would be able to share information about your experience with another mother, but as a Leader you would not be free to initiate or recommend this suggestion. If you wanted to share this experience with others, another way of helping, other than LLL leadership could be a better fit for you.
I would also like to address your interest in leading an LGBT LLL meeting. I think that it is important for you to know that we do not accredit specialty Leaders. So for example Leaders often say that they need a working mother as a Leader for their Group because she can relate to the mothers in the population the Group serves - I would disagree - what qualifies a Leader to relate to those mothers is her experience of mothering, not her experience of separation. Similarly in this case it is the experience of mothering through breastfeeding which qualifies a Leader to help others. Any Leader can help anyone who is interested in breastfeeding. LLL has accredited a number of lesbian mothers as Leaders. They lead Groups for all mothers. I think that the group that you envisage would work better not as an LLL Group because its scope is beyond breastfeeding and LLL is concerned specifically with breastfeeding. Other topics may come up at meetings as they relate to breastfeeding, but we do not, for example, recommend any particular method of or setting for childbirth, sleeping arrangements, diet or educational philosophy and (as noted above) we could not recommend using donated milk. There is definitely a place for groups with a different focus, such as attachment parenting groups, but these are not LLL Groups. Thanks for sharing information on your Facebook group. This is the kind of thing that would definitely work better not as an LLL affiliated Group, since there are guidelines on how LLL Facebook groups can be run.
One thing you said which I must respond to is that "LLL now supports working mothers, women breastfeeding after reduction surgery, women who are inducing lactation, single mothers, and lesbian families". I wondered if you think that this is new - that we did not support them before. In fact we have always supported all of these mothers. We support all women interested in breastfeeding. I think there may be confusion between whom we support and who can be a Leader. You mention "LLL's conservative, Christian roots" as if LLL has moved away from its roots. In my view LLL's roots are in our philosophy which has not changed and has not needed to change in order for us to accept and help all mothers, irrespective of their background. ALthough LLL was founded by seven women who attended the same Roman Catholic group and hatched the idea that became LLLI at a church picnic, they never ascribed a religious sponsorship to LLLI, never required any religious affiliation, whether Catholic, Christian or other. The mission, the philosophy, the concepts - those are the roots of LLLI and they are what you and I value so much about LLL.
I would welcome your comments or any questions you might have.
Thank you again for your interest in LLL and in helping others. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
And here's my original letter:
Through communication with my local LLL leader, I understand that you have some concerns over my potential leader application. It is true that I do not identify as a mother. I am a transgender man – I birthed my baby and have been breastfeeding him for 13 months, but I am a father. However, I certainly "mother" my baby by caring for him in all the traditional ways that a mother would. I have benefited tremendously from my participation in La Leche League, and I would love to be able to give back as a leader as well.
Without the support and information provided to me by LLL, I doubt that I would be breastfeeding today. During my pregnancy, a leader told me about Diana West's Defining Your Own Success: Breastfeeding After Reduction Surgery.
I learned that despite my own dramatic chest surgery, it might be possible for me to produce some milk, and to have a satisfying breastfeeding relationship by using an SNS. I attended LLL meetings at ------------, where I received a warm welcome both from leaders and other breastfeeding parents. After the birth of my baby, I gratefully accepted intensive one-on-one help from a leader to ensure a good latch even with my meagre chest tissue.
It is my hope that I could some day reciprocate the compassion, encouragement, and expertise that made such a difference to my personal breastfeeding experience. I overcame significant challenges in order to breastfeed and I believe that this background, combined with leader training, will enable me to effectively help others. I acknowledge that some women may not be comfortable working with a male leader. Nevertheless, I wonder if there may be a way to facilitate meetings with those who feel they could benefit. My local Leader suggested holding meetings oriented toward gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender parents interested in breastfeeding. I know that these individuals need support and that they do already turn to LLL to try to find it. For example, a transgender man reached out to me via my blog and mentioned that he had attended LLL meetings where he lives in California. He was sadly unable to latch his baby. I'm sure that my situation and his, although very unique today, will become increasingly common in the future. Queer-positive meetings that include the possibility of Skype access could provide meaningful assistance to parents in need around the world.
I understand that LLL's current philosophy emphasizes mother-to-mother support, and that the idea of a breastfeeding dad is entirely new territory. In recent articles as well as her new book, Elisabeth Badinter has emphasized LLL's conservative, Christian roots. However, I was disappointed that she doesn't recognize the ways in which the organization has grown. In fact, LLL now supports working mothers, women breastfeeding after reduction surgery, women who are inducing lactation, single mothers, and lesbian families, even though these situations were controversial as little as a few decades ago. I very much hope that LLL will continue to evolve and meet the needs of today's families – including any breastfeeding dyad wishing to find support and information.
Please let me know if you have any further questions about my situation. Also, feel free to read my blog and published articles. I consider them available for anyone to read, but I have changed my name and my child's name in these materials in order to protect my family's privacy. I look forward to your response.