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On La Leche League Canada's Discriminatory Leader Criteria

Earlier this year, I wrote about Trevor, a transgender gay breastfeeding Canadian father, who blogs at Milk Junkies. This week, as I arrived home from vacation, I learned that Trevor had applied to become La Leche League leader and was rejected.

On his blog, Trevor wrote about his interest in becoming an LLL leader, so that he could "support trans guys, queer folks, and allies in their breastfeeding endeavours," ideally leading a group on Skype that would allow people to connect from all over the world. LLL, however, rejected his application, noting that its mandate is "about mothering via breastfeeding, not simply supporting anyone who wishes to breastfeed." This came as a surprise to Trevor, since he had always been welcome at his local meetings.

Trevor later posted the full text of his letter to LLL and their response to him.


Yesterday, I was interviewed by Josh Tapper from the Toronto Star who wrote an article called Breastfeeding dad wins support from parenting community. I answered numerous questions for Josh, but ultimately the quote he chose for his piece does a pretty good job summing up my position on this:
La Leche League Canada’s decision is discriminatory.

It is time for La Leche League to update its guidelines and recognize that breastfeeding is not exclusively a mother’s domain.

A big part of the problem, for me, is that I don't support the gender essentialism promoted by LLL in its "mothering through breastfeeding" mandate. Wherever possible, I avoid identifying parenting issues or parenting problems as part of motherhood or fatherhood. Whether people choose to identify as "mothers" or "fathers" and which role a "mother" or "father" takes in a home is a personal thing, in my opinion. Often it is based on gender, with women (cisgender or transgender) identifying as mothers and men (cisgender or transgender) identifying as fathers. However, that isn't always the case -- in some lesbian couples, for example, one of the women may identify as the "dad".

For example, Polly who writes at the blog Lesbian Dad, provides this definition:
les•bi•an dad n, neologism 1. a. A lesbian or genderqueer parent who feels that traditionally female titles (i.e., “mother”) don’t quite fit, and who is willing to appropriate and redefine existing male ones (i.e., “father”): She was a tomboy when she was a kid, so it’s not surprising she’s a lesbian dad as a parent. b. Often a non-biological parent in a lesbian family, and/or one whose role relative to the child in many ways resembles that of fathers.

I can understand LLL refusing the application of someone who has never breastfed, since their goal is to provide peer-to-peer breastfeeding support based on the actual experience breastfeeding. But to reject an application from Trevor, who birthed and breastfed his baby, and who "mothers" his child in the same way that any woman does, just because he is a man, is discrimination.

Specialty Breastfeeding Support Groups

Other than the gender issue, LLL Canada also addressed the issue of specialty support groups in its response to Trevor, saying:
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.

Personally, as a working Canadian mother who attended LLL meetings from time to time (some better than others, and finally found a group where I felt somewhat at home just as we were almost done breastfeeding), I can tell you that the knowledge of some LLL leaders on the challenges and best practices in working and pumping, in guiding a caregiver or partner in bottle nursing and handling breast milk, is not always up to par. Their ability to support, without disdain for the mother who dared leave her child, is also lacking in some cases. As a moderator on the kellymom.com Pumping and Relactating forum for several years and as someone who pumped for several years, I know that first hand experience with the challenges and regular contact with women who are working and pumping is greatly advantageous to being able to provide quality advice.

It is baffling to me that LLL Canada thinks someone who has never worked and pumped would be qualified to provide me with advice on that, but that Trevor wouldn't be qualified to provide advice to breastfeeding mothers because he isn't a mother.

Is LLL a Niche Support Group?

I've always tried to give LLL the benefit of the doubt. While it often seemed to be primarily populated by white, middle class, stay-at-home, crunchy moms, I tried to believe that they could and did want to support anyone who is breastfeeding. But just as a Parliament made up of old white men (even with the best intentions) isn't truly qualified to lead a diverse country, an LLL leadership that doesn't adequately represent the spectrum of breastfeeding experiences isn't truly qualified to provide breastfeeding support to a diverse breastfeeding community.

But perhaps LLL isn't trying to support the diverse breastfeeding community. Maybe it is a niche exclusive organization targeted at a specific type of woman.
« The Mommy Wars Made Me a Better Parent | Main | Is the City of Ottawa Caught in an Unhealthy Conflict? »

Reader Comments (80)

I think LLL is in a difficult position; it orginally was started by a bunch of Catholic moms, which is appealing to me as a Catholic SAHM, but now has become basically a secular/non-denominational pro-breastfeeding group serving all sorts of breastfeeding moms(the one I used to go to actually met in a Methodist church). In their most recent update to their book "the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding" they took out many of the references to traditional family roles, which actually saddened some people I know in conservative circles. I think they need to decide what they want to be, and then embrace it wholeheartedly. The way they are doing things now is clearly just confusing and angering people. I'd personally be fine with it if LLL was a conservative Christian pro-mothering group, but if that's what they want to be, they should label themselves as such so people like you who wouldn't be interested in that know what they are getting into. Or if they want to be an anything-goes pro-breastfeeding group, they should not discriminate against Trevor or whoever else wants to nurse or teach others to nurse. Seems to me they want to be all things to all people and it's just not working.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCrunchy Con Mommy

I feel that a lot of what's happening here is that the leadership of LLL - by which I mean the board, not group leaders - is generally decades older than the rest of LLL. As such, they move much more slowly, and act much more conservatively, than their membership. This is causing conflict not only with LLL and the wider world, but within LLL itself. Now, of course, you could say that more people of all ages should volunteer to serve on the board, but for most parents of young children adding another obligation on to the pile is unrealistic. As well, when everyone one the board looks a certain way, it can be difficult to imagine yourself joining them if you just don't.

I agree with Crunchy Con Mommy when she says that LLL needs to be clear on their scope. If they're trying to reach out to young mothers as a secular support group, then they're going about it the wrong way. As someone who loves LLL, and received support from LLL, I dearly hope they will re-visit this decision, and take steps to be more inclusive.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

I've always tried to give LLL the benefit of the doubt. [...] But perhaps LLL isn't trying to support the diverse breastfeeding community. Maybe it is a niche exclusive organization targeted at a specific type of woman.

That sums it up perfectly. Thank you for this great post. Many shares I will tweet it (breastfeeding Yoda, here).

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKelly Hogaboom


Just to clarify, I do not believe Trevor applied for Leadership, rather he sent in an inquiry to see if he would be eligible to apply.

As for the comment on "Is LLL a Niche Support Group?".. LLL Leadership is "niche", there is a philosophy to live/uphold. However ANYONE can turn to LLL Leaders, LLL Groups, LLL Publications for breastfeeding & mothering support (as Trevor did and he had a great experience, hence why he inquired about whether he could apply!).

We must also remember that all volunteer leaders are individuals (they are volunteer breastfeeding counsellors, not paid lactation consultants), so like with all services out there, not all leaders and not all the groups they lead are equal. Hopefully families will live in a community with more than one organisation providing support (in Winnipeg where Trevor is from there are Breastfeeding Clinics run by the Winnipeg Health Authority), and even better, more than one LLL group to turn to, so that mothers, fathers, family members can find the support that works for them.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

I think you pose a good question, Annie. LLL has long touted itself as the breastfeeding support group for all families, yet it holds certain principles that most people have difficulty recognizing as being necessary for breastfeeding. Many mothers don't see this because they come, get their question answered and move on without really engaging further. I have had several conversations over the past couple days where women are truly surprised to read the ten philosophies (and not in a "gee I wish I'd given them more money/help" kind of way). I think it could go either way - but it's likely to become a niche organization as new breastfeeding support organizations are created.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle @ Mama Bear

When I was involved with LLL back in the 80's it was anything but a conservative, Christian group - and I lived in the South, aka Bible Belt, at the time. It was full of very radical moms of all different economic and religious backgrounds who banded together to fight tooth and nail to be able to breastfeed our children at birth, in public, in the workplace, in general... It has become so very PC in the past 10 years or so, I can barely recognize it as the same group I was a member of. Sad.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMeg

I'm not sure why you can be so outrageously shocked. LLL tout's themselves as mother-to-mother breastfeeding support (not peer-to-peer, they are pretty specific about that). Anyone interested in breastfeeding can access their services (dad, grandmas, nurses, doulas) yes, absolutely & always - LGBT, secular, crunchy, mainstream - whatever goes. This is not the same thing as "anyone interested in or currently breastfeeding can apply to become an accredited leader". The Leadership application is fairly stringent and requires Mothers to have breastfed their baby for at least one year AND not only believe the philosophies but LIVE them. They actually do expect that of each leader. Reading the 10 philosophies will give you a pretty good idea of why they wouldn't accredit Trevor. I think it makes sense that Trevor cannot be a Leader, the criteria set out is very clear. Trevor has obviously identified a need that has not been addressed in the breastfeeding support community, I think instead of getting fired up about LLL's philosophies (which they've held since the 1950's!) Trevor needs to branch out and create something different - LLL is there for mother-to-mother support, perhaps Trevor should starts an LGBT Breastfeeding support group unto itself. Why not?

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRose

Love this. The research I did on LLL was really interesting... there's a woman named Chris Bobel who researched this very issue at length (she was a member of LLL herself) and she came to similar conclusions. I think LLL can be an invaluable resource and I know many leaders who are incredibly, open-minded, culturally sensitive people. But this is on the individual level. The organization at large does seem to be serving a rather limited group of women, who are subscribing to a specific lifestyle and parenting approach. Part of that may be the history of the organization - after all, it was started by a group of Conservative Catholics in the midwest - has grounded it in a certain ethos, and the group has failed to evolve to an extent which would allow it to serve a more diverse audience. It's a great thing that other orgs have been forming to serve other audiences, but I do fear that the vast majority of breastfeeding support and advocacy groups are still a bit myopic in their philosophies and in the way they approach minority populations...

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFearless Formula Feeder

I agree! I feel it's horribly unfair to LLL to call their response discriminatory. Trevor has obviously received a warm welcome as a member of LLL. What he's asking of LLL is not merely to include him and support his efforts (which it has), but rather to expand its scope by creating a new, special-interest group. I can understand Trevor wanting to help others who may have shared his challenges, and that sounds like a lovely idea, but I don't see any real reason why such a group would have to be--or even would significantly benefit from being--under the umbrella of the current LLL organization as opposed to existing alongside it. It's hardly "exclusive" or "niche" for an organization to focus on the experience of being a mother!

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIsabelle

I do feel LLL is a "niche" group. It's not just about breastfeeding, but about the 10 Philosophies as well which include parenting philosophies (gentle discipline for example).
I am so conflicted over this issue and LLL sometimes. I LOVE the LLL. I think they do good work. They helped me tremendously, and in fact were the ONLY people to help me figure out how to continue to nurse my baby. They never made me feel bad or excluded. To be honest, a LLL meeting was the one of the few places I didn't feel looked down upon for choosing to not pursue my promising career and live up to everyone else's expectations of me. LLL meetings made me feel like I still mattered as a person even though I chose to "just" be a mother. Like I wasn't crazy for wanting to share my bed with my children until they were ready. Like I wasn't gross for letting my kids decide when they wanted to wean. That I wasn't insane for choosing not to spank. That I wasn't betraying my feminist ideals if I really did want to be a stay at home parent. I would hate for that safe place for women who do need that safe place to go away. It was a life saver for me and my family.
I also see how LLL's requirement for Leadership keep others OUT of LLL and make them feel unwelcome. And each group varies greatly from region to region about how they interpret the philosophies and transmit that to others. Our group has two SAHM leaders and one leader who works outside the home. We have a morning and day meeting. We have exclusive pumpers. We have women with low supply who supplement (with both formula and donor milk.) We have women with high powered careers. We have SAH homeschooling moms. We have women for whom breastfeeding didn't work out at all who still want to come to our meetings to get mothering support. All those things are wonderful. I think it's important to remember that LLLC doesn't speak for every LLL Leader or group.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterErin

Excellent point.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

That's a very good point about the board. I don't know much about them, admittedly, but if they are all quite similar in their age, backgrounds, and philosophies, that can keep LLL from being a forward-looking organization.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I agree. I think LLL has played an important role in empowering stay-at-home, attachment parenting / gentle parenting minded women and giving them recognition that what they are doing is important. I just wish there were more places, whether at LLL or elsewhere, that recognized that individual families can choose a gentle and respectful parenting path without that meaning that there is a traditional family where the mother stays home. Breastfeeding was incredibly important to me, as were many of the other tenets of LLL, but I'm also the breadwinner in the family. The fact that I found a way to breastfeed, to mother, and to bond with my babies, while also allowing my partner the opportunity and responsibility of being a stay at home father, always made me feel like the "crazy" one at LLL meetings.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Obviously Trevor has benefited tremendously from the support he received from LLL and he likely sees value in what they have to offer in terms of their resources and philosophies. If he didn't see value in that, I'm sure he would have simply gone out on his own. He certainly still can do that, and I hope that he does, but I still think LLL's response was exclusionary and discriminatory.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Hi there. Great analysis in your article!
Having been involved in feminist activism in the past two decades and now working as a lactation consultant, I can say that I've seen these debates emerge for a number of organizations over the years. I've seen many organizations lose relevance and fall into the dustbins of history for precisely this kind of narrow thinking. This stuff is not new, and it has nothing to do with the value of what an organization provides. For example, Vancouver Rape Relief actually went to court to prevent a trans woman from volunteering with them. In response, more forward thinking RCC's (Rape Crisis Centres) changed their policies to welcome transfolk and worked to provide a friendlier space. But VRR still maintains their bigoted stance, learning nothing, and losing the support of many former allies (including me). As well, the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival was once a vibrant event that many feminists looked forward to every August. Not so now, since they only allow "women born women". I wouldn't go, as an ally. Their membership is aging and the festival has lost its relevance to 21st century feminism. Sad, really. LLL might do well to examine their policies to ensure they reflect the changing realities of families. They have such a great opportunity here. They can be leaders. It is worth noting that as a member driven organization, it was the other members of Trevor's group (and other leaders!) who urged Trevor to apply for leadership. If they think he is leader material, why is an outdated policy taking precedence over the desires of his local group?

August 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMary Lynne Biener

I agree with much of what you wrote and have shared your experience of feeling judged by LLL people for working outside the home.
But - and I'm just being honest here - I would absolutely be uncomfortable having a male La Leche League leader for myself. My La Leche League leaders looked at my breastfeeding latch, adjusted it, and discussed my breastfeeding troubles; I would not be comfortable doing that with a man. Is that discriminatory of me???

August 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChanna

Is it discriminatory? I don't know. There are a great number of reasons why women may or may not be comfortable having a man assist them and some could be discrimination and others not.

That said, there is a big difference between an individual preference and institutional discrimination. All LLL groups that I attended had multiple leaders and there was always be the opportunity to work with a different one if one of them made you uncomfortable for some reason (and yes, some of the women made me feel uncomfortable, which is why I moved on to another group).

August 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I can absolutely see how some mothers who work outside the home (and many other types of "non traditional" mothers) would feel uncomfortable at certain LLL meetings. Especially because there are still groups that do not accredit mothers who work outside the home during their baby's infancy. LLL has much work to do in being more clear about their image to the public and who exactly we want to help. And it is a truth that many, many families seek and get help from LLL. And many of those people won't seek Leadership and would not qualify.
I think bringing in working mothers as Leaders was step forward for LLL and help them reach more women. And it's a work in progress. I still have to work hard to convince some people in my area that our LLL group IS supportive of working mothers, non-white mothers, teen mothers, single mothers, lesbian mothers, exclusively pumping mothers, supplementing mothers, moms who only want to nurse for a few weeks or months, active duty military mothers, etc. (Because our group is open to all and incorporates all those women gladly.)
As someone above suggested, the "higher ups" are on a different wave length and have different responsibilities than the Leader at the group level. It's also difficult because LLL is an international organization, so the policies must be broad enough to work for some very "liberal" cultures as well as some very "conservative" cultures. I'm sure that is not an easy task at all.
I can also see (from my group in the southern part of the US, part of the "Bible Belt") how having men changes things. We welcome fathers at our evening "cafe" style meetings, but we do keep our morning meetings (where we get most of our brand new mommas who need latching help) only for women. Fathers are welcome to wait outside, and speak to a Leader after our meeting if desired. We have moms who come and use a cover with just women. We have moms who only nurse in "public" at an LLL meeting because it is women only. I don't think those mothers would get the help they need in a mixed gender atmosphere. I also don't think many women would feel comfortable asking question about their periods, fears about resuming sex, etc. in a mixed company setting. I feel guilty about the exclusive, honestly. But does it serve a purpose? Maybe.
But then I see how Trevor did fit into his LLL group well and with seamingly no issues. So perhaps it is best left up to Leaders and groups on a more individual basis since they know the culture they are serving best? And not put in the hands of a removed body that doesn't (and can't be expected to) understand all the details of each area and the needs of that particular group.

August 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterErin

Breastfeeding has moved beyond the traditional SAHM who AP's and grinds their own baby food. While its unfortunate that LLL hasn't responded appropriately, I'm not at all surprised. They have been losing leaders, groups and entire states of affiliation in droves due to policies, procedures and financial discord.

Luckily, there is a new game in town. http://www.breastfeedingUSA.org" rel="nofollow">Breastfeeding USA has been accrediting counselors using a standardized, evidence-based curriculum and has just finished a successful major fundraising campaign. I suspect the marketplace has been underserviced too long by just one group and is ripe for competition.

August 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNotTheOnlyGameInTown

I have to say that I feel this post is unrealistic and unfair. LLL is an organization run by women (themselves mothers) who volunteer their time to support mothers and babies in achieving breastfeeding success -- may I restate VOLUNTEER their time. There is no government subsidy or corporate backup or support helping run things. LLL Leaders are not paid to do what they do.

LLL Leaders themselves must balance parenting, managing households, helping their children in school and working as well as staying updated and volunteering their time to help others. As far as the criticism about having a non-employed mom running groups for mothers who are employed (because let's be real here, all mothers work) -- the real problem is that moms who are employed aren't volunteering probably because they don't have the time or the interest to help others for free.

I have been a Leader for the past decade and been involved with LLL for 14 years. Not once in that time have I ever encountered a transgender, gay breastfeeding father -- and I live in Los Angeles, a huge metropolitan city. I have worked with over a thousand mothers, most of them mothers who go back to work. Most of the women who come to meetings or call on the phone feel vulnerable -- they have questions, something is not right, the wonder if this is normal, they feel unsure, they might be in pain, etc. I truly believe it would be beyond overwhelming for a new mother to come into a meeting or pick up the phone and ask for help from man who breastfeeds (however nice he is). To put a new mother in that position would truly be unfair to her and I highly doubt mothers would feel comfortable having a transgender, gay breastfeeding father helping them with their latch, looking at cracked nipples or even trust that a man would know anything about how breastfeeding feels during ovulation or while pregnant. There are somethings a man simply cannot know about what women experience.

I applaud Trevor for his efforts to care for his baby; I think it's awesome he received support with LLL -- that really is way more important than that he cannot be a Leader. If he really feels he would like to provide support for others in his situation, he could probably pursue his IBCLC and or CLE and create his own unique support network. However, to call LLL discriminatory is pushing the envelop -- LLL clearly states that it promotes mother-to-mother support. The sole goal is to help mother and infant breastfeeding dyads, not to promote re-organizing social gender roles. To say that LLL it is a niche group that doesn't care to support a diverse community is frankly insulting (and wrong since LLL obviously helped Trevor) to all of us who volunteer countless hours of our personal time to help others simply for the sake of helping without personal gain.

August 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSusan @ The Sacred Mother

NotTheOnlyGameInTown, Leader numbers are only going down in the USA. Numbers are actually on the rise everywhere else and LLL publications are being translated into more and more languages.

In the USA, many of the Leaders have joined BF USA. And this is a good thing. It's not a negative and it's not really about LLL not progressing. The former LLL Leaders still wish to help other mothers. They've just decided to move on from LLL (yet sometimes continue to use LLL resources). It's the same type of movement you see in paid employment: you work for one company and when your time with that company has reached it's maturity, you move on to another.

August 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

Fair enough. But I would assume that on some level, individual preference will influence group policy. Meaning, if LLL thinks that there are a lot of women who would prefer a female leader to a male leader due to discomfort with men touching/seeing/discussing their breasts, and if we assume that there is nothing inherently discriminatory about that preference, then why would acting on that preference and only having female leaders be discriminatory?

August 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChanna

Because using what is right for one, some, or even most people to exclude someone else is discriminatory and also alienates the people who do not belong to the one, some or most. A genderqueer, gay, or transgender person may feel more comfortable with someone like Trevor than with a heterosexual cisgender woman who has no understanding of the unique challenges that they face. It is the same reason that I think there should be black women, working women, lesbian women and so on as leaders. Because there may be others like them, even if they are not in the majority, who would prefer to work with them as leaders and who would benefit immensely from what they have to offer. Personally, as someone who had to exclusively pump for 3 months with my first child before I could get him to latch, I think Trevor would have had a lot more to offer me than the leaders who never pumped.

August 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I do not think that this post is unrealistic and unfair, but think that it raises some interesting issues and I appreciate it. The point here is well made. Upon consideration, I do think LLL is discriminatory in their policies re: leadership. That is their choice. I do not think LLL is necessarily discriminatory in its willingness to help a broad spectrum of individuals.

As a (very) soon-to-be first time mother interested in BF but not interested in becoming a sahm, I have been directed by more than one person to LLL but have not yet gone to any meetings and may not ever attend any. I am glad to have learned a bit more about the culture of the organization generally.

August 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMartine

When I attended LLL meetings and told them about my intent to return to work at the end of my rather short maternity leave, they were a little appalled by it, but they did direct me to a lovely LLL-published book called "nursing mother, working mother" which I bought and absolutely loved. So I am deeply grateful to them for that, and even if you don't go to the meetings you should get the book!

August 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChanna

I would encourage you to check out what LLL is and does in *your* area before deciding against going. Each group and region can vary greatly in their demographics. Many LLL groups have evening and/or Saturday meetings specifically in order to reach employed mothers (my group does). And more and more LLL Leaders are employed themselves.
It is true that the majority of Leaders are SAH, and that is for a variety of reasons. But many times the group is made up of many employed mothers and you may find the expertise of the Leaders and the support of the other mothers invaluable :)

August 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterErin

I keep trying to come up with an intelligent response and my brain isn't cooperating today. So I'm just going to say: THIS. This summary is exactly why I feel the way you do on this issue. A healthy organization should change over time to suit the needs of the people it serves. Societies are never static, and organizations who recognize that fact and move with the current are the ones that will continue to thrive. If LLL doesn't take a bigger step into the 21st century, another support system for nursing parents will become the standard in many communities. Given LLL's history and dedication to breastfeeding, I would love to see them make the shift at even the highest levels to become more inclusionary.

August 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThe Maven

Can I ask-- does anyone know what's going ON with LLL lately? I went to a meeting last year while pregnant and loved it-- when my babies were a few months old I wanted to go back, but the meeting-- and several others in my area-- had disappeared without a trace! I tracked down one local-ish leader who alluded to a "change in leadership" and some groups being disbanded. So disappointing! I still wish there was a group I could go to. I'm breastfeeding twins who are nine months old and I'd love to meet some other moms, maybe even other twin moms, who are hoping to go past a year-- I really don't know any, and I'm hoping to get more support as I get closer to toddler nursing and all its challenges.

August 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJules


August 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRose

Reading this post left a pretty bad taste in my mouth. Thankfully I then went & read Trevor's actual blog, his letter to LLL and their response. I read all the comments over at his blog & I feel differently on the issue. If you want solid breastfeeding help you should reconsider checking out LLL, if you want to go it alone then all the power to you. Best wishes in your motherhood journey.

August 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRose

While I think it would be wise of LLL to start thinking about parenting situations beyond the 'traditional' ones that dominated at its inception, I do think its unreasonable to say their policies on becoming a Leader are 'discrimatory.'

They are quite obviously a philosophy focused organisation, therefore have every right to be particular about who they choose to represent them. This is no different to many other organisations that choose to only have representatives of a certain gender. Have the Freemasons admitted women yet? No.

Now, had LLLC refused Trevor access to their meetings or resources, you might have a case, but he has been warmly welcomed and included in meetings, run by a LLL Leader.

LLL does (or should!) welcome parents from all circumstances who are interested in nursing their babies. As someone pointed out, they aren't the 'only game in town' therefore if someone does not fit into their criteria for Leadership, they may be of assistance in other ways outside of LLL. LLLC has indicated that they would support Trevor in pursuing this avenue if this is what he wishes to do. After all, LLL isn't (or shouldn't be!) into 'turf wars' but looking simply to help mothers to breastfeed.

August 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

To claim that "working" mothers aren't interested in volunteering to support other breastfeeding mothers is unfair. I believe that it is well documented (at least anecdotaly) that LLL has repeatedly denied the leadership applications of women who were incredibly willing to serve but worked and managed separations from their infants.

Also, to make assumptions about what Trevor knows or doesn't know, feels or doesn't feel, and help with and not help with is a disservice to a human being.

August 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmber Mc.

I did not mean to suggest that I might not attend any LLL meeting because of this post in particular. I was never sure that LLL was a resource that I would use, although I understand and appreciate that numerous people do and get great things out of it. Aside from that, I otherwise did find the post (and comments) informative on certain aspects of the LLL.

August 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMartine

LLL groups regularly adapt to their local community - many groups welcome men at all meetings and most have at least some meetings or events where men are welcome. Having a male leader might require some adaptation in how the group organizes itself, but leaders do that all the time in a whole bunch of different ways (meeting time, meeting location, meeting format, library selections, etc...). This would be no different.

August 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle @ Mama Bear

Breastfeeding USA is not in Canada at the moment (presumably, it wouldn't be called Breastfeeding USA here :P). I personally subscribe to the "big tent" on this one - my impression as both a volunteer and a lactation consultant is that there is no scarcity of women who need peer support in any community.

August 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle @ Mama Bear

Martine, please don't take for accurate everything you see posted here! Your local LLL group, wherever you are in the world, will welcome you are warmly as all LLL groups do - all mothers (and even now a father who breastfeeds!)

August 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

Annie, I appreciate your blogs and discussions very much. I'm sorry you had a less-than-happy experience with your local LLL group, and glad you found one that fitted you better. I'm personally very glad I didn't have to make the decision about whether to encourage Trevor to apply for LLL leadership or not - a hard call! But let's please get some perspective here. LLL is an international organisation, with groups in over 60 countries. There are Leaders of many colours and religions. There never was a debate about whether it should just be for Catholic white women - that was so obvious in 1956 that the Founders didn't discuss it - of course they welcomed everybody! LLL describes itself as a mother-to-mother support group, and I think it's fine for it to do what it says on the tin ;-)

August 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

YES! Very well said. I couldn't agree more. Thank you.

It's obvious that he is knowledgeable about breastfeeding and I support his decision to obtain breastmilk for his baby. I'm glad that those resources are there for whoever needs them, but this is more than that. It's a statement abut where birth and BF'ing belong. Birth and BF'ing are rooted in feminine power. Regardless of how gender is defined, it is only the female sex that can give birth and BF a baby. This is not a discriminatory statement, it is simply biological fact. It seems like he wants it both ways; to retain his feminine power, but divorce his female identity. It's concerning to me to remove or detach birth and BF'ing away from women and into something that both genders can do or allow it to become non-gender specific. It's obvious that he has BF'ing experience and should qualify as a LLL leader, but he wants to do it as a man, from a man's perspective, and the reality is that the male sex does not birth babies or BF.

August 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTeresa

I have found the official leadership of LLL to be much more conservative than the individual groups and leaders. I have been attending a local group for over 3 yrs and was invited to become a leader. But, after reading the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and going thru LLL's tenets I decided not to pursue it. My main issue was its emphasis on mothers staying home with their babies. The book through in a bit on working mothers, but it was to the tone of "Well, if you have to..." *heavy sigh*

I still attend the meetings, though, because the leaders and mothers are fantastic.

August 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

I'd like to point out that it was LLL that selected, trained, accredited, and supports the Leader who helped Trevor so well, and facilitates a group where he was supported and welcomed. She sounds like an amazing Leader - like so many I've met :))

August 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

I'm feeling a bit queasy about the surgeon involved. I expect her/his motivation was to help a troubled person, but I would be surprised if she/he was working as a volunteer, or was low-paid. What's the ethics of destroying the breasts while leaving the womb intact? What's their responsibility for the ongoing lives they've affected so profoundly?

August 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

For all we know the surgeon did do due diligence and informed consent by explaining to Trevor that this surgery would make it very difficult to breastfeed a future child.
And Trevor said himself that he and his partner assumed they would formula feed.
So then it's not up the surgeon to say no, because it is always the patient who gets to decide to assume the risks of a procedure.
And Trevor and his partner knew it would be a challenge and made the best of it.

Having said that, there ARE surgeons who downplay or ignore completely the affect of breast surgery (lumpectomies, augmentations, lifts, reductions, etc) on future lactation. I believe that to be irresponsible and wrong. That is very frustrating to me when I encounter a mom who was told it "wouldn't have any effect" or "only a minimal effect" or otherwise not told the complete truth. Often times they are very upset and feel betrayed and guilty. Every patient deserves a completely truthful run down of the possible side effects of a procedure. And anything that is severing/removing breast tissue can affect future lactation. In my personal experience, most young women I counsel about that don't care, but at least they are informed. I think more surgeons are making sure to counsel their patients about the possible lactation difficulties.

August 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterErin

Did you read the newest version? Eight edition, I believe. The revamped a lot and I like the new format much better than the older ones. I agree that the older versions did leave some things to be desired: and the section on working mothers was definitely one of them!

August 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterErin

Sure, they might welcome you. If they return your phone calls.

August 23, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbhn

Thank you for referencing the nightmare known as Rape Relief's humiliation of Kimberly Nixon. To me, this is just another organisation, that while set up to really support folk with an issue (rape or breastfeeding), has rejected someone who could help them target a population that can most use the support. Statistically, the rates of sexual violence against transgendered folks is disproportionately high, and after reading the awful comments left on news sites about Trevor and his family, I can only conclude that social barriers against trans folk breastfeeding (and parenting) is greater than those of cis women. What could have been a great move forward for LLL, instead turned into a reaffirmation that essentialism continues, and progress be damned. Boo Boo Boo.

And I find it remarkable that transgendered folks can get rejected from Rape Relief and the Womyn's festival for being born with male genitals, but then get rejected from LLL for being born with female genitals (and then birthing a baby!) but identifying as male. Seriously, the next time someone denies cis-privilege I am ready with a powerpoint.

August 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjulia

Le Leche League got me through a very difficult start to breastfeeding that, combined with post partum hormones, left me feeling very lonely and sad. But I would never have gone to a second meeting if there had been a breastfeeding man in the group. As it was, I left the first meeting thinking the mom with the 2 year old nursing was crazy. Then, somewhere along the line, I realized that weaning my son was not an option and became that mom (almost, my son self-weaned at 18 months). Somewhere, I picked up a more open mind and stopped fiddling with the nursing cover and looking for a hidey hole to nurse in when in public.

I have been reading Trevor's blog for a while and I commented on his post about this. He's a fantastic father, giving his son the best he can, and I love that he is open about it. I'm sure he is not alone. But there is no reason he needs LLL's support to pursue this endeavor.

Further, I believe LLL should not be attacked for this decision. They have every right to determine that they do not wish to have male leaders. Most meetings do not allow fathers. They can support him without making him a leader. And he can support breastfeeding parents of all walks of life without being a LLL leader. I've met women at LLL meetings who couldn't even bring themselves to nurse in the same room with the other moms. They were so modest and the act is so intimate to them. Like I said, I would not have been comfortable and I know many other mothers who would not have been comfortable either. Where does that lead? Some might look for another meeting, but others might never show up. They might not get the support they need and give up on the challenge they are facing. They may very well tell other moms and moms-to-be that LLL lets men into meetings. Yes, biologically, Trevor is female. But if he identifies as a man, he cannot expect to be accepted as a woman. And while I might not be fazed if I went to a LLL meeting with my second baby, I would still recognize that many new moms would be. Trevor is one person who could cause many, many others to feel uncomfortable and thus not receive the support they need. Le Leche League could have done better in their response, and blaming it on wording is silly, but I think they made the right call.

August 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

bhn, if you're having trouble getting in touch with your local group, you may find there's a national helpline you can contact for information and support, or you can do an online Helpform. See the LLL website where you live for contact details. Sometimes Leaders do get overwhelmed - either with many calls, or family needs, or paid work, or all of the above!

August 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

Mary Lynne, have any of the Rape Crisis Centres you mention published on their experiences? I'd love to read more on the issue. How do the women who use their help lines react to a male voice on the end of the phone? How do they experience being welcomed into a centre by a man? How do they react to working with male rape counsellors? If there are difficulties, how have they addressed them? These are real questions, I know it's easy to assume a sarcastic tone of voice when reading on the web, but I am genuinely interested. Are there journals I could check out?
The issue of women's organisations accepting or rejecting trans women is different I think.

August 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

Check out LLL's listings of Groups in your area - there should be links from llli.org and probably in your state/affiliate as well. You can go to any Group meeting that you can get to, and you can often email Leaders for help tracking down others who want to meet. There may be a Group with mothers who've breastfed twins nearby, just not the one that disbanded. It's unfortunate when that happens, but remember, these Leaders are *volunteers*, and changes in their lives - or the structure of LLL above them - can suddenly change the Groups as well.

And for others, please note that while the local Groups are very much member-driven, the international organization is very much top-down policy-driven and not necessarily at all responsive to the opinions of the Leaders, let alone the members. There are definitely issues there.

August 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterOpinionfountain

Thanks Opinionfountain-- that was actually the first thing I did. When I looked at my state listing, I saw that several other groups were also missing from it. I called a leader from the group nearest to me and that's how I found out the group I went to was gone. Looked again later and the SECOND group was gone, too! There are no groups close to me now except one that is in a very inconvenient place-- the others are all too far. The first group I went to was actually very popular and staffed with a few co-leaders, so I'd be surprised if they all suddenly dropped out in just the space of a few months. It's just suspicious to me.

August 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJules

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