Jeanne Manford made headlines 50 years ago when she marched with her openly gay son at the Christopher Street Emancipation Day Parade – an early Pride event in New York City. Such behavior from an outspoken mother was unheard of at the time.
The following year, Manford founded an organization for people just like her – PFLAG, which originally stood for Lesbian and Gay Parents and Friends.
Over time, PFLAG has become a leader in the fight for gay rights. It was a valuable source of support to thousands of families, especially during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. These days, Pride is a family-friendly event and PFLAG serves all members of the LGBTQIA community.
National PFLAG / National PFLAG
Kay Holladay, PFLAG board member, said the culture has changed in unpredictable ways. She recalls that in the early 1980s when her son was introduced to her, she did not know any gay people.
“I think maybe my choir director at the church,” she said dryly. Her Southern Baptist Church in Norman, Okla. LGBTQ members are not accepted. “We have no one to talk to. We have no other family. We have no resources.”
Holladay and her husband felt lost and isolated. They went to the public library to educate themselves, but nothing helped. However, they read about PFLAG in the general advice column Dear Abby and that inspired them to co-found a local chapter. This year, they are the great marshals of Norman Pride Parade.
PFLAG was shaped by people like Holl Today for others just like them – a largely white demographic who desperately needed support in the days before Ellen DeGeneres and Anderson Cooper helped put The idea of LGBTQ families became popular. Today, childbirth has become relatively easy for many children in families like them. But things weren’t easy for Devin Green, a child of immigrants who grew up in Charlotte, NC.
“It was stressful,” the 19-year-old said of telling his parents he was transgender. “Being Jamaican and having a relatively conservative upbringing, I just didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Green’s family attended a Southern Baptist church that taught literal interpretation of the Bible. When he entered 9th grade, Green’s mother was less emotional. Now, she’s been open and candid about her family’s journey. Finally, Claudette Green said, it started for her at home in Jamaicawhere she grew up hearing homophobic messages in church, on the news, and in popular music.
“There were songs that glorified the killing of LGBTQ members,” she recalls. “There’s actually a law on the books in Jamaica that you can go to jail if you’re a member of the LGBTQ community.”
After Devin Green convinced her mother to go to therapy, she was asked to attend a PFLAG meeting. “It was hard for me because when I went there I met families who were more accepting of their children and so I felt like a terrible parent,” she said. But Green is the opposite of a bad parent. She and her child talk. And most importantly, she listened. “Devin is an excellent teacher and I am a very good student,” she said.
And when the head of the local PFLAG chapter invited her out for coffee, she went. “She met me where I was,” Green said. “Going to PFLAG and seeing love has helped me unravel some of the things that I believe in.”
Five years later, Green proudly marches in Pride parades. She has changed her nursing career to focus on helping LGBTQ young people and she and her husband have supported other Caribbean families to accommodate LGBTQ children. They had moved to a more affirmative church, and Green had just taken a position on the Charlotte board of PFLAGs.
PFLAG San Gabriel Valley API Chapter
However, the chief executive officer of PFLAG, Brian BondHis organization has a long way to go.
“It’s mostly white,” he said. But PFLAG is trying to follow him, with bilingual literature and the development of a space where people of similar backgrounds and cultural backgrounds can support each other online. However, he is haunted by people the PFLAG cannot reach.
Bond keeps a receipt in his wallet, he told NPR. It was the funeral of a 13-year-old transgender boy who died by suicide a year and a half ago. His family had never heard of PFLAG. The organization paid for the child’s funeral anonymously.
“Interestingly, it was a state trooper who contacted us,” Bond said. “And that’s not our job, it’s what we need to do right now. And making sure no family has to do it should be our ultimate goal.”
Times have changed but in some respects they have not. PFLAG has new battles to fight. First, it becomes a plaintiff in a lawsuitagainst the state of Texas to protect transgender children and their parents fighting for clear health care.