I was saddened to learn of the recent death of Jeanne Manford, founder of an organization that eventually grew to become Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).
Manford started the original support group in 1972, after her gay son had been beaten while participating in a protest for gay rights in their native New York City. PFLAG now has some 200,000 members and more than 350 local chapters across the U.S.
Since its inception, the organization has provided a supportive environment for members of the LGBT community and the people who love them. Perhaps most prominently, it has provided a safe and compassionate haven for parents and other family members who need to work out all kinds of issues upon learning that a son, daughter, brother, or sister is gay. And, once over that initial hump, the group’s ongoing support can lead to lifelong friendships and a life-changing commitment to the causes of acceptance and equality.
I have been a dues-paying member of my local PFLAG chapter for several years, both as a close friend of some LGBT persons and as an overall supporter of the organization. Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to attend many of their meetings. But, when I have been to meetings, I was always impressed by the love and acceptance that these people project—towards each other, towards their LGBT friends and family members, towards newcomers, and towards people in general. I always felt welcome there, from my very first meeting, even though I couldn’t give back as much as I’ve wanted to.
The local meetings I’ve attended usually have consisted of a formal program followed by a less formal support group where people can share their experiences, issues, and concerns, and get advice and encouragement. Sometimes there were tears; but there was always compassion, caring, and often laughter. I’m sure that the group has saved the sanity of a lot of people, has helped to keep some families together, and maybe even saved some lives.
I’m always impressed when I see the local PFLAG group marching proudly behind their banner in gay pride parades. I wish every LGBT person had a family who loved them enough to so proudly and publicly support them for who they are.
Fortunately, for those who do not have that kind of support at home, the PFLAG family is there with open arms.
Thank you, Jeanne Manford, for making it all possible.
Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views appear regularly in a variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites. Note that the ideas expressed here are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Amnesty International or any other organization with which she may be associated. E-mail: email@example.com.