I just wanted to take a moment to honor and remember Jeanne Manford, the founder of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). She died today at the age of 92. Jeanne became involved in the gay rights movement in 1972 after her son Morty was beaten for his involvement in a Gay Rights Alliance demonstration. At a time when having a gay or lesbian child was denied and not discussed, she wrote a letter to the New York Post (not the friendliest audience) stating, “I have a homosexual son and I love him.” She stood in the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade (the precursor to NYC LGBT Pride Parade) with a placard that said “Parents of Gays: Unite in Support of our Children”. Shortly thereafter, the first POG meeting (at that time it was just called Parents of Gays) met at Metropolitan Community Church in NYC.
I still tear up every time the PFLAG contingent walks in a pride parade. I cry and clap and holler. It doesn’t matter if it’s a big contingent of a hundred family members and allies walking down 5th Avenue in New York City or the group of five Hawaiian moms I saw in the very small Kauai parade (which was really more like a picnic), Like Jeanne, these parents get it. They get that there is no substitute for a parent’s love and acceptance. Period. I am so grateful for every parent that has found his or her way through the social stigma and religious indoctrination in order to love his or her child. It leaves us with a world where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people can feel connected, can feel loved, and don’t have to lose their families in order to be themselves
Caitlyn Ryan of the Family Acceptance Project has empirically documented what we intuitively know: that family acceptance of LGBT youth protects against suicide, depression, and substance abuse, and is correlated with better health and self-esteem. In other words, family acceptance is a good thing and paramount to a LGBT person’s sense of self and well-being. Family acceptance may also help to mitigate the other detrimental effects of living in a homophobic culture. There is no way of knowing how many lives PFLAG has saved or how many families avoided estrangement. PFLAG gives parents a place to come together and struggle with their fears, their homophobia, ultimately with a goal of supporting and loving their children. Jeanne Manford leaves a powerful legacy – not just in starting PFLAG – but in being the kind of parent that every parent can aspire to follow.