A Historical overview of PFLAG

21 Dec

Morty Manford was a witness to the Stonewall Rebellion of 1969 which was an event that changed his life forever. Morty saw a great need for LGBT persons to start standing up for their rights and became one of the leading activists in the gay community, not just locally, but nationally. The experience changed the life of his mother Jeanne as well. While Morty was standing up for equality and tolerance, he was beaten down during a peaceful demonstration by anti-gay activists. While several New York City policemen watched the beating take place, none moved to stop it. They let the beating continue until the attackers grew tired and left Morty on the ground. Jeanne and her husband Jules weren’t there, but they did watch it replayed on television over and over and over,

Jeanne couldn’t believe what had happened, much less that the police did nothing to stop the vicious attack on her son. She tried reaching out to the press, but most were uninterested. For television the moment had passed. The New York Times didn’t wish to “Dirty their hands” with gay related stories and refused her calls. Finally one newspaper, the New York Post, was willing to break the ranks and run her letter to the editor which stated: “My son is a homosexual, and I love him.” To the surprise of the editors at the Post and Jeanne as well the outpouring of support was overwhelming. With good comes the bad however and not all responses were positive, in fact some were so disgustingly hateful and threatening they had to be forwarded to the NYCPD who again did nothing.

During the 1972 Christopher Street Liberation Parade Jeanne marched carrying a sign which read “Parents of Gays: Unite in Support of our Children.” By the end of the march she found others had joined her. A few were parents that did show up to support their children, but the overwhelming majority was young gay people that begged her to call or visit their parents and show them that it was okay to love their gay child just as any other.

It was that day while talking to many newly made friends that Jeanne realized there was no organization that really supported gays. Sure there were legal defense funds, some medical organizations that advocated for equal care and recognition on their behalf, most notably the APA, but not nothing that really supported them on the social level. She wasn’t sure how to go about organizing such a thing, but she did speak to some of the parents of the gay youth she met that day on Christopher Street. Before long she realized there were so many people requesting she speak to their parents, the only way to help everyone was to address the parents as a group. As such a few informal meetings took place until march of 1973 when the first organized meeting of Parents of gays (POG) was held.

POG was the precursor to PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). PFLAG was mostly a local organization, but due to Jeanne’s constant interviews, word of mouth, and a very notable mention in a Dear Abbey column which generated over 7.000 letters requesting information, PFLAG became a nationally recognized organization. In 1979 many organizers who ran “PFLAG like” organizations which were more or less safe havens for LGBT persons with nowhere else to turn met for the first time in Washington D.C. and discussed ideas to centralize their organizations and work cooperatively.

By the time PFLAG became an officially recognized non-profit organization in 1982 they were already known for their uncanny ability to organize chapters in the heart of the Bible Belt. PFLAG gained further notoriety for being a pivotal player in defeating Anita Bryant’s anti-gay crusade. From then until 1987 PFLAG was home based in Los Angeles. Adele Starr became the organizational leader, but Jeanne was then as now the real face of PFLAG. They temporarily moved to Denver for three years while Ellinor Lewallen took over, but quickly became far too big and moved to Washington D.C. in 1990 which is when Paulette Goodman took over as President.

This was an important time period for PFLAG as well because Goodman reached out to First Lady Barbara Bush and asked for her support. To the surprise of many, Mrs. Bush responded saying: “I firmly believe that we cannot tolerate discrimination against any individuals or groups in our country. Such treatment always brings with in pain and perpetuates intolerance. “The story was leaked to the press, and although it was a bit surprising to many conservatives, the First Lady stuck to her belief and refused to back down. In essence this may have been the first openly pro-gay comment to come out of the White House.

PFLAG went on to help pass legislation on behalf of gays in numerous states throughout the 1990’s most notably in Massachusetts where they advocated on behalf of the Safe Schools Act which protected LGBT person from harassment based on their sexual orientation in schools. In 1993 PFLAG expanded to aid bisexuals and then transgender persons in 1998. PFLAG now serves all members of the LGBTQI.

Currently PFLAG has over 500 chapters with nearly 260,000 members. Their constant vigilance in regards to all issues which affect LGBTQI persons is undisputed as superior in comparison to almost all gay support organizations. Each day somewhere across the country a PFLAG meeting is taking place and young people, their families, and friends are finding the support they need within the confines of this organization.

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