WASHINGTON, D.C.— On March 11th, PFLAG—the nation’s first and largest organization uniting families and allies with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people—will celebrate 45 years since its founding in New York City in 1973.
Jeanne Manford, elementary-school teacher and mother of renowned gay activist Morty Manford, marched by her son’s side in the 1972 Christopher Street Liberation Day March—a precursor to NY Pride—carrying a homemade sign that said, “Parents of Gays: Unite in Support of Our Children.” When she was surrounded by people at the end of the march, asking her to speak to their own parents, the idea for PFLAG was sparked and nine months later, with support from her son and husband, Jules, the first meeting of PFLAG was held on March 11, 1973 at the Metropolitan-Duane Methodist Church in Greenwich Village (now the Church of the Village). Approximately 20 people attended.
Over the past 45 years, PFLAG (formerly an acronym for “Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays” but changed to simply PFLAG to reflect its longtime inclusion of bisexual and transgender people—one of the first organizations to do so—in 1993 and 1998, respectively) has grown into a national organization with nearly 400 chapters across 49 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and on a U.S. military base in Germany, with hundreds of other family and ally organizations around the globe, all inspired or quietly supported by PFLAG.
Since its founding, PFLAG has helped hundreds of thousands of families learn how to support their LGBTQ children and loved ones, expanding to include similar work with loving allies who are also invested in equality for LGBTQ people. This doesn’t include the possible millions across continents who have used and tailored the model to make them culturally appropriate for their locales.
“PFLAG has had a revolutionary impact on parenting and family values and practices in the U.S. and around the globe,” says Dr. Jaime M. Grant, new Executive Director of PFLAG National, the national organization that supports and resources the grassroots PFLAG chapter network. “Simply put: Family acceptance saves lives.”
The numbers bear this out: According to The Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University, highly rejected LGBT young people were more than eight times as likely to have attempted suicide; nearly six times as likely to report high levels of depression; more than three times as likely to use illegal drugs; and more than three times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and STDs. However, when families are even slightly more accepting of their LGBTQ loved ones, it will significantly reduce harm and risk.
The work of moving families forward on acceptance is achieved primarily through PFLAG’s expansive network of chapters. PFLAG chapters can be found everywhere, in communities urban, rural, and suburban; conservative to progressive, and everything in between. With monthly support meetings, hundreds of educational opportunities provided both by chapters and the National organization, and constant advocacy work at the local, state, and federal level, PFLAG has moved thousands of families and allies from fear, worry, concern, or love to decided action in favor of equality.
“PFLAG is saving lives, including in my own family,” says longtime PFLAG mom, and now chapter leader and National board member, Marsha Aizumi. “My work with PFLAG has allowed me to help my Asian Pacific Islander LGBTQ community which often suffers in silence and isolation. My own transgender son is now a chapter leader himself! After years of agoraphobia before coming out as trans, seeing my son thriving as a confident leader has brought me so much pride.”
In addition to its grassroots network, PFLAG National has a variety of signature programs include Straight for Equality, which engages and trains allies in a variety of settings, including corporations and faith communities; Claim Your Rights, a program created in partnership with GLSEN to help ensure that LGBTQ youth are protected from discrimination, harassment, and bullying; and Cultivating Respect, PFLAG’s safe schools program utilized by PFLAG chapters across the country in their own school districts.
With the Title IX guidance recently rescinded—although protections are still in place—PFLAG’s work in schools and with you are more crucial than ever before; both Cultivating Respect and Claim Your Rights have moved this work forward significantly.
PFLAG chapters across the country will hold events of celebration and support through the month of March, recognizing PFLAG’s many accomplishments over the last 45 years, which include participating in the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; defeating numerous state anti-marriage equality amendments—as well as a federal effort—and finally helping to win marriage equality by submitting a friends and family amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court; helping lead the coalition to win hate crimes legislation; organizing against so-called “ex-gay” efforts, as well as speaking out against so-called “conversion therapy” ; and changing millions of hearts and minds in support of LGBTQ people.
PFLAG has widespread support across communities, including from many notables, who spoke out on the occasion of the anniversary:
“I don’t care how successful, how settled or even how old we are, we still want our parents’ approval. Their approbation nourishes our happiness and sense of self. Historically we in the LGBT community have found that validation spotty at best. But how could families embrace us when so many had no support from society. Along came PFLAG with knowledge, heart, and acceptance. Thanks to their outreach programs families have stayed together, familial bonds have grown stronger and lives have been saved. PFLAG has changed our history.” – Harvey Fierstein, American playwright/actor/writer
“PFLAG has been out there winning the hearts and minds of society long before anyone even considered that important. When no one I mean absolutely no one was there, PFLAG was. Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of this old Butch’s heart.” – Lea DeLaria, Actress/Comedian/Jazz Musician
“PFLAG has led the charge on family acceptance for forty-five years fostering spaces for family and friends of LGBTQ people to find community, creating resources to help those with questions, and encouraging diversity. PFLAG has also modeled allyship for their members, acknowledging mistakes in order to better serve the entire LGBTQ community. Now, more than ever, family acceptance of LGBTQ youth is needed. Our youth deserve to be wholly affirmed and accepted for who they are, in all of their identities, for them to thrive. I'm proud to stand with PFLAG as they continue to champion on behalf of all LGBTQ youth and their families.” – Sara Ramirez, Actress
“My mother, who founded the Dear Abby column, first brought PFLAG to national attention in the early 1980s. Today it remains a valuable resource for gay, bi, and questioning men, women and their families. There is nothing as important as building bridges of understanding between LGBTQ individuals and their friends and families. The ability to do this can literally mean the difference between life and death. The adage, "The more things change, the more they remain the same," is true. As relevant as ever, today PFLAG deals with increasing numbers of transgender issues.” – Dear Abby, Columnist
“PFLAG has always had a special place in my heart. When I first came out, my parents had a difficult time adjusting to the fact that their daughter was a lesbian, as this was not what they expected, and nothing in their experience had prepared them for it. I remember going to a Gay Pride Parade in New York City and seeing the large PFLAG contingent marching by carrying signs that said things like, “I love my gay son” and “Proud mother of a gay daughter.” Tears sprung to my eyes. And a woman—I’m sure she was a mom—stopped in her tracks and gave me a hug. That hug sustained me for many years until my own parents came around, which I am happy to say they did. Not everyone is so lucky. And that’s why PFLAG is so important.” – Lesléa Newman, author, Heather Has Two Mommies, October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard, and Sparkle Boy
“PFLAG, since its inception, has been an organization that served, and continues to serve, several unique functions. Not only does PFLAG effectively educate and provide support to the families and friends of LGBTQ people, PFLAG members are among the most important allies supporting full equality for all, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.” – Jack Drescher, MD, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Columbia University, Emeritus Editor, Journal of Gay and Lesbian Mental Health
PFLAG is constantly on the forefront, ensuring that LGBTQ people are accepted and supported in order to live, love, learn, work, pray and play equally, fairly, and safely. To find a chapter near you and join in the celebration, visit pflag.org/find.
PFLAG is the nation’s largest organization uniting families, allies, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people. Committed to advancing equality through its mission of support, education, and advocacy, PFLAG has nearly 400 chapters and 200,000 supporters crossing multiple generations of families in major urban centers, small cities, and rural areas across America. To learn more, visit pflag.org, like us on Facebook (/pflag), or follow us on Twitter (@pflag) or Instagram.