After city’s daddy-daughter event initially excludes Lawrence family, local group creates new event where everyone is welcome

photo by: Contributed photo

Mimi Zinn, right, and father Andrew, pictured in 2016, attended several of Lawrence Parks and Recreation’s Daddy-Daughter Date Night events before Andrew's death in December 2018. City staff initially refused to allow Mimi and mother Melissa to attend the 2019 event.

After a mother and her child were initially told they could not attend a city event for dads and daughters, a local organization has created a dance party open to everyone.

Melissa Zinn said that her husband and child Mimi had attended Lawrence Parks and Recreation’s Daddy-Daughter Date Night event, which includes dinner and dancing, for the past few years. Melissa’s husband, Andrew Zinn, died in December, but when she explained the circumstances and requested that she be able to attend the event with Mimi, city staff initially told her that only a man could accompany Mimi.

“I was really blind-sided by the response,” Zinn said. “It made me think about how exclusionary it is, not just for me personally, but all kinds of families who don’t fit the traditional mold of what mainstream culture thinks of as family. There are so many types of loving families, and we should all be able to go and dance and have fun with our kids.”

According to the event’s registration page, the city’s Daddy-Daughter Date Night is for girls ages 5-14 and their favorite man — dad, stepdad, grandpa, older brother, etc. The description of the event, which has a registration cost of $45, also instructs to please enroll daughters only.

Zinn recently posted about the situation on social media, and Parks and Recreation Director Derek Rogers reached out the same evening and let her know that she could attend. In response to the situation, a local organization, Let’s Talk Lawrence, also created a similar event, Fancy Pants Dance Party, that is open to anyone who wants to attend.

Let’s Talk Executive Director Vanessa Sanburn, who is also a former member of the Lawrence School Board, said that though Zinn’s situation had brought the issue to her attention, she thinks it’s important to have an event that doesn’t reinforce stereotypical gender roles and doesn’t exclude anyone, including single moms, LGBTQ parents or nongender-binary children. Sanburn said the public response to the event indicated to her that this was not a fringe issue.

“We’ve had an incredible outpouring of support from the community, which means that this is an issue that resonates with a lot of people,” Sanburn said. “This isn’t just a fringe issue or something that a couple people believe is a problem.”

Sanburn said that within a day of announcing the free event, about 30 volunteers and various businesses had signed up to help. Specifically, she said The White Schoolhouse volunteered to provide the venue and that several other businesses volunteered supplies or services, including Lawrence Beer Company, Ladybird Diner, Owens Flower Shop, JF Dance, multiple photographers and a DJ.

Zinn called the initial refusal from the Parks and Recreation Department a “negative blip” and emphasized that she was really impressed with the response from the department and the community. She said that Rogers called her personally and told her that not only could she attend, but that the city’s event would be more open going forward. Zinn said she and Mimi planned to attend both the city’s event, which is on March 2, and the event hosted by Let’s Talk.

Rogers did not immediately return a phone call from the Journal-World Thursday.

When asked about her reaction to the creation of the new event, Zinn, at times emotional, said that she was absolutely overwhelmed that people who she doesn’t know personally would step in with a positive, productive response so quickly.

“We just feel so much love from our community,” Zinn said. “We love Lawrence, and this is a concrete example of what makes Lawrence so special.”

Sanburn said that people interested in attending the Fancy Pants Dance Party can register online at FancyPantsDanceParty.com. The event will take place April 12.

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