Friday, April 11, 2014

A Powerful Speaker at PFLAG Tampa

Today we hear from John Desmond of PFLAG Tampa, regarding a presentation made at their support meeting. It was a powerful topic and had great turnout...and was even picked up by the press!
Cathy's son, Tyler, and coverage of
their court case in the headlines

We had an important presentation last night at our PFLAG support meeting. Cathy James, a Florida same-sex adoption advocate, talked about her experiences getting on her wife's son's birth certificate as a second parent.

In 1977 Anita Bryant successfully campaigned to repeal a Miami ordinance banning anti-gay discrimination. Further, she helped convince the Florida legislature to pass a law that entirely barred gays from adopting children. In November 2008, a state circuit court struck down the law and on September 22, 2010, Florida's Third District Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the decision. This alone is not enough to allow a same-sex couple equal rights in parenting. An adoption simply transfers all parental rights to the adoptive adult. 

Fortunately, Florida allows second parent adoption which lawyers were able to use to help families like Cathy's. In the process, Cathy discovered that people as highly placed as a lesbian Police Chief, and a room full of judges that preside over adoptions did not know that the ban had been overturned in 2010! Cathy's main point these days is to let gay and lesbian people know that they can adopt in Florida.

Click here to read coverage from the local paper, including comments from chapter members! 

Connect with PFLAG Tampa on Facebook and follow them on Twitter (@PFLAGTampa). 

Friday, April 4, 2014

PFLAG Columbia-Howard County's Catherine Hyde Receives Honor!

This week we hear from PFLAG Columbia-Howard County, with wonderful news about one of its members...who also happens to be a Regional Director, PFLAG National Board Member, and a member of the Transgender Gender Nonconforming Advisory Council (TGNC).

Courtney Watson , Catherine Hyde and
Mary Kay Sigaty at Howard County
2014 Volunteer of the Year Awards
Ceremony on Tuesday April 2nd.
PFLAG Columbia-Howard County is most  proud and happy to announce our own, Catherine Hyde, has been recognized as 2014 Howard County Volunteer of the Year.  Catherine says she is humbled be a part of the powerful voice that is PFLAG: parents, families, allies and friends working with the LGBT community to move equality forward.

Catherine's biography is both touching and impressive. She says she didn't listen to her child when he, at the age of 4, told her that something had gone wrong in her belly and that he was supposed to be a she. She did not understand transgender or gender identity until NPR educated her 11 years later. 

Today, she speaks and trains on transgender understanding and sensitivity. In her day job, Catherine is director of Online Services for the national nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners. As a volunteer, Catherine serves on the Howard County Human Rights Commission, the Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Advisory Council for PFLAG National as well as PFLAG National’s Board of Directors and as Mid-Atlantic Regional Director. She is also on the Public Advisory Board of Gender Rights Maryland. 

Congratulations, Catherine, from all of us in your PFLAG family across the country!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Scholarships From PFLAG South Orange County!

PFLAG South Orange County has scholarships up for grabs!

Outstanding graduating high school seniors and college/vocational students are encouraged to apply for the 2014 scholarships offered through PFLAG South Orange County. Monetary awards of $2,500.00 are available to residents of South Orange County between the ages of 17-24 who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, or queer, and to straight allies who have directly supported LGBTQI youth and/or the LGBTQI community.

Eligibility Requirements for the scholarships are straightforward: a 3.0 Overall GPA, a resident of South Orange County at time of the application, must identify as LGBTQIA, a high school senior panning to continue with higher education, and one who is involved in support, education and/or advocacy in their school or community.

Overall, three $2,500.00 scholarships will be awarded in 2014, and winners will be asked to attend the June 18, 2014 PFLAG meeting in South Orange County to accept their awards personally.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Vote for PFLAG Tampa!

Today we hear from John & Nancy Desmond of PFLAG Tampa, with a great opportunity for their chapter...and a chance for you to support the effort!

We are so excited to have been nominated again this year as one of three finalists, in the Organization category, for Grand Marshal of the St Pete Pride Parade. St Pete Pride is one of the largest Pride events in the southeast and is the largest Pride event in the state of Florida. Being named a Grand Marshal of this event is among the highest honors bestowed by Tampa Bay’s LGBT community. There are three Grand Marshal categories: Female, Male and Organization. Three people or organizations have been nominated for each category, with the public deciding which among the three becomes a Grand Marshal. The voting will run through the end of March with the winners announced mid-April.

Now we need your help in getting the word out and the votes in. Anyone anywhere can vote. The competition is tough, as we are competing with organizations with significant name recognition. Imagine Florida PFLAGs leading the St Pete Pride Parade! - That would energize a crowd that already gives us a VERY enthusiastic reception. And what a great way to promote PFLAG!

Please share the voting website, as widely as possible and maybe PFLAG will be at the front of the parade!

Can you help?

Friday, February 28, 2014

PFLAG Cedar Rapids: Voices of Diversity

We don't often get to spotlight a chapter where a simple link will allow the entry to speak for itself. But WOW! Check out this wonderful segment from CBS2 Iowa highlighting the chapter!

A Cedar Rapids group is working to pave the way for people supporting family members in the lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender and questioning community. Rita Devenney is one of those people. “It wasn't a popular thing to be gay in our community,” Devenney said. Devenney and her wife, Jennifer Rowray, both came from small towns where coming out wasn't easy.   “I didn't really have anyone to look to say, 'it's okay to be me,’” Rowray said. That changed for Jennifer as a college student at a gay rights parade in Chicago where members of the group, PFLAG were marching. “Strangers from the crowd would run out and hug these parents because they didn't maybe have parents of their own to hug. That really struck me and allowed me to be brave and tell my parents and trust that they would be more like a PFLAG parents than more like a parent that would reject me,” Rowray said. 

PFLAG is, a group that supports sons, daughters and friends, that are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning. PFLAG also reaches out to those who are supporting someone in their life that is LGBTQ. Many of the organizers of chapters across the country are parents of those in the LGBTQ community.  

Friday, February 21, 2014

Charley Bowers wins KGLRC Community Award

Today we're shining a spotlight on PFLAG Holland-Lakeshore and Holland Is Ready, a local organization with which PFLAG Holland-Lakeshore is a partner! It's wonderful to see PFLAG chapters become more trans-inclusive, and getting more deeply and vigorously involved as trans-advocates.

Charley Bowers, co-chair of Holland is Ready, has been named the winner of Kalamazoo Gay-Lesbian Resource Center’s “Community Award” for 2014. Bowers was given the award at KGLRC’s Winter Gala on February 1st.

KGLRC noted that Bowers was recognized for her determined advocacy on behalf of Michigan’s transgender community. By sharing her personal story and struggle, Bowers has worked to improve awareness and understanding across the State of Michigan. Her advocacy has had a particular focus on engaging young people and challenging LGBT-serving organizations to be more trans-inclusive. She continues to speak to young people at many educational institutions and organizations.

In addition to serving on Holland is Ready’s board of directors, she is also a long-time volunteer with the Kalamazoo Gay Lesbian Resource Center. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

PFLAG API Chapters in New York and Los Angeles Celebrate Lunar New Year!

The 2014 Lunar New Year was last week, and PFLAGers on both coasts celebrated diversity of all kind by marching in parades with other API constituents. We have reports from both Califonia and New York on these special celebrations!

First up: Carol Mannion, President of PFLAG on PFLAG San Gabriel Valley API’s celebration:
For the second year in a row, PFLAG San Gabriel Valley Asian Pacific Islander (PFLAG SGV API) marched in solidarity with API Equality Los Angeles (APIELA) at the 115th Annual Golden Dragon Lunar New Year Parade.  The event was held in Chinatown Los Angeles, California, on February 1st, 2014.
API Equality LA is the official LGBT contingent at this annual cultural parade.  APIELA invites local API LGBTQ organizations to march with them, carrying their banners.  Participants are asked to wear a uniform red APIELA t-shirt, distinguishing a visual presence of support and advocacy for our Asian and Pacific Islander LGBTQ populations.  Some of these organizations and other participants are also members of:  Barangay LA (Filipino), Chinese Rainbow Association, Gay Asian Pacific Support Network, Project Alofa (Samoan), Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team Health Center, Koreans United for Equality, San Fernando Valley Japanese American Citizens League, and Satrang (South Asian).  Because we span our services to three different counties of Southern CA:  Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange, our chapter, located in San Gabriel Valley, is the centralized access location for all.

The mood was festive and crowd turnout this year was larger than the last.  Some onlookers had colorful, shimmery confetti and noisemakers.  We welcomed the “Year of the Horse” with the theme of “Family”.  Aptly, our API PFLAG led the march, holding our bright yellow banner, all in red t-shirts, some parents brought their Pride signs.  It would be the first time that a group would hold up Pride signs.  These homemade signs stated proudly:  “I love my gay son,” “Gay Son, Proud Mom,” “Proud Asian Dad of a Gay Kid,” “Support Keeping Families Together,” “Proud Filipino Mom”.
As we waved, bobbed our signs up and down, wide smiles underneath the beating midday sun, heads held up high, eye-to-eye contact with the crowds, a few of us could not hide the tears of joy and meaning upon the crowds cheering, applauding, and showering us with the shimmery confetti and noisemakers.  One of the observations made was that there was so much enthusiastic support along the street and that perhaps this was credited to having our API PFLAG at the beginning of the group.  The audience cheered those parents who were brave enough to support their LGBTQ children. The parent signs expressing their continued love for their children made the audience react so positively.  People were taking lots of photos of our signs supporting our children.  This was not a Pride parade, but a quaint cultural parade where the narrow streets of Chinatown, L.A. were lined with tourists, local residents, weekend workers, many Asian and Pacific Islander families with their young children, local civic leaders, and immigrants.
The power of family love, support, and continuity of relationships and cultural values, are conveyed in our SGV API PFLAG chapter and its collaboration with API LGBTQ organizations, locally, statewide, nationally, and internationally.
Indeed, our API PFLAG chapter continues to expand its reach and visibility across the varied Asian and Asian-American groups, our shared values about family, respect for our elders, and resiliency as we adapt to our new nation and our children are born into, become a collective that we celebrate at our support group gathering.
Yes, the spirit of the horse, is in every immigrant and Asian and Pacific Islander’s ethos.  We come to America with an indomitable spirit to improve our lives, to contribute and be grateful for the American dream, to ensure that our children is our legacy who will thrive, beyond just surviving.
We are PFLAG San Gabriel Valley Asian Pacific Islander.  We are the voices and faces of API mothers, daughters, sons, fathers, friends, cousins, siblings, countrymen, driven to adapt and accommodate one another.  We all speak the same language of love.
Next up we hear from Clara Yoon, founder of PFLAG NYC’s API Project:

The API Project of PFLAG NYC comes into 2014 celebrating its second year of raising awareness about lesbian, gay, bi, and trans issues in the Asian & Pacific Islander (API) community. Since the launch of API Project in 2012 to provide information and support to API families with a family member who is LGBTQ with a special focus on meeting the cultural and language needs of API families, we have built ties with LGBTQ organizations in the API community, like NQAPIA, SALGA, Q-Wave, Queer Koreans Alliance, and Dari Project.  The involvement of parents has been warmly received, but there is still a long way to go to help families and allies to receive their LGBTQ loved ones with acceptance and pride.  

The Lunar New Year is an important holiday for many from East Asia, and this year marked the fifth year that the API LGBT community took part in New York's biggest Lunar New Year Parade.  API Project of PFLAG NYC marched for the second time with Lunar New Year for All, a coalition of many Asian & Pacific Islander LGBTQ groups, on Sunday, February 2, 2014.  More than 60 people took part, including LGBTQ people, their families and allies, and helped make LGBTQ people visible in the broader API community. Clara Yoon, the founder of API Project and current board member of PFLAG NYC also invited Asian colleagues in her work place to join the parade and many showed up with their own families and friends, making the event even more special.   The board president Suzanne Ramos who also marched with the group said, "The parade was a wonderful New York experience.  We were proud to be marching together with our API members and in support of all LGBT people in the API community and their families."

The API Project also joined Lunar New Year for All to march in the Flushing Lunar New Year Parade held in Queens on Saturday, February 8, 2014.  This was the first time an LGBTQ contingent marched in Flushing. 
Parents from the API Project were warmly received by many from Asian LGBTQ groups for whom the presence of parents was especially moving.   We plan to continue participating in the Lunar New Year parades throughout the city in coming years.

Friday, February 7, 2014

PFLAG New Orleans Needs Your Votes!

PFLAG New Orleans has entered a contest sponsored by Gulf Coast Bank that will award cash to local nonprofits who are helping to make a difference in their local communities. $25,000 will be awarded to the winner, as well as awards of lesser amounts to nine runners up. 

Why the sponsorship? Says Gulf Coast on its website, "Gulf Coast Bank is committed to giving back to our community. Community Rewards is one of our three major fundraising events held throughout the year, resulting in over $200,000 reinvested in our community each year."

For 23 years, PFLAG New Orleans has also been investing in its community, with The PFLAG New Orleans Scholarship Program, which offers between $1,000 and $10,000 to LGBT and ally students. Whatever money they might win from Gulf Coast would go to this program.

The PFLAG New Orleans Scholarship Program recognizes outstanding LGBT students from Louisiana, encourages continuing education for self-identified LGBT students and allies, and fosters a positive image of LGBT individuals in society. The program is supported by the generous contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations, and organizations, and the prize from Gulf Coast Bank could have a huge impact on the lives of New Orleans' youth.

Please help PFLAG NO by visiting and voting for the chapter. You can vote once a day, and the deadline for voting is February 28th. 

Thanks for helping provide much needed support to LGBTQ youth in NOLA!

Friday, January 31, 2014

PFLAG Indianapolis: The Fight for Equality in Indiana

Today we hear from PFLAG Indianapolis co-President and Indiana State Coordinator Annette Gross.

To say that Annette is a warrior would be something of an understatement: she is tireless, fearless, outspoken, fierce and funny...and always on the front line of the battle for full societal affirmation and legal equality.

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Annette!

Only a marriage of one (1) man and one (1) woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana.
A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.
Two years ago when I attended the PFLAG National Convention in Alexandria, VA, I attended a workshop led by Freedom to Marry.  I remember complaining to the speakers that no one was paying any attention to Indiana and our issue with HJR-6 (the proposed state constitutional ban of same-sex marriage, now called HJR-3).  I was told that they would be with us when the time was right.

It seems I didn't have to worry.  In September 2013, a coalition called Freedom Indiana was created to fight HJR-6.  Coalition partners included Freedom to Marry, Indiana Equality Action, Human Rights Campaign, Gill Action, American Unity Fund, and American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana. Other coalition partners included businesses, faith leaders, civil rights and community organizations, and individuals committed to defeating HJR-3.

Indiana PFLAG chapters played a substantial role in the campaign.  Indianapolis PFLAG board members wrote letters to legislators, and held letter-writing parties.  Dina Roberts Wakulczyk and I donated hours at the Freedom Indiana office doing data entry, PFLAG members attended phone banks across the state, and  Dina Roberts Wakulcyk, Betty Lynch, Stephanie Freeman, Phil Cooper, Judie Doehrman and I made calls in Indianapolis.  Our members also wrote to and met with legislators to let them know how HJR-3 would affect us and our families.

PFLAG members were well represented at the hearings: Meredith Richmond from Lafayette/Tippecanoe County; Roger McNett from Fort Wayne; Phil Cooper from White River Valley/Spencer; and Betty Lynch, Dina Roberts Wakulczyk, John Denson, Judie Doehrman, Marcia and Steve Neff, Beth Henkel, Bill Jackson, and myself from Indianapolis were all in attendance.

Our members contributed in other ways as well.  Dr. Bill Buffie's report, Public Health Implications of Same-Sex Marriage explained the phenomena of "minority stress" and how it would affect LGBT Hoosiers if HJR-3 were to pass, and Sheila Kennedy wrote many articles on her blog, Sheila Kennedy - A Jaundiced Look at the World We Live In. And three of us--Beth Henkel from PFLAG Indianapolis, Cathy Wyatt from White River Valley, and I--were the first Moms for Freedom, in partnership with Freedom Indiana. 

This campaign brought surprises.  Right before the first hearing was scheduled, we learned that HJR-6 had been changed to HJR-3, and that several legislators introduced House Bill 1153 as a "companion" to HJR-3, because the second sentence of HJR-3 was a sticking point; its language is murky and could be open to all sorts of interpretation.

I had the good fortune to be able to speak out about the dangers of HJR-3. On Saturday, January 11th, I was invited to be a guest on the local Internet radio show "Civil Discourse Now." along with Dina Roberts Wakulczyk, another Indy PFLAG member.

The following day, Sunday, January 12th, I was invited by Freedom Indiana to a community meeting in Indianapolis to share my story and explain why HJR-3 is so bad for my family.  I was then interviewed by Erika Smith about PFLAG and HJR-3. I also submitted letters to the editor at the Indy Star and Indianapolis Business Journal; and had stories published on the blogs Huffington Post, Indy Vanguard and Peacock-Panache.

On January 13, 2014, the House Judiciary Committee met to hear more than four hours of testimony. I sat upstairs in the Gallery, along with many other supporters of equality. The Gallery was a sea of red, which we all wore at every hearing, in support of love.  Our side testified first, and we heard from business, legal, and religious leaders who all shared why they believed that HJR-3 would be so terrible for Indiana.  The Indy Chamber of Commerce and big businesses like Eli Lilly and Cummins expressed concerns about the passage of the proposal that they claim would hurt talent recruitment and retention.

Next we heard testimony from our opponents.  I had attended all of the previous hearings over the years and recognized many of those testifying.  The presidents of three local evangelical, right-wing organizations spoke, explaining why they believed that HJR-3 should be put into our state constitution.  We also heard from attorneys, people of faith, and various other opponents of equality. Most of them were not, in my opinion, very credible.  

Finally, at the end of a very long day, Speaker of the House Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, declared that the vote would be postponed.  After waiting nervously for almost a week, on January 21st we learned that Bosma moved the proposed ban from the House Judiciary Committee to the House Elections and Apportionment Committee: the measure stalled when supporters could not find the votes needed to push it through the Judiciary Committee, spurring Bosma to seek other ways to advance the measure to the full House.  I could not believe it: Bosma didn't feel he had enough votes so he just put together a new committee.  That didn't seem very democratic to me!

On January 22nd we were back at the Statehouse to hear more testimony.  This time I stood outside the House chamber, and again I was aghast as I heard hateful testimony aimed at LGBT Hoosiers and their families. I stood near a young woman who was holding up a sign that said "Liberty For All Hoosiers."  She was crying throughout the entire testimony.  A friend of mine also stood nearby with her wife and young daughter.  As I watched her, I could not reconcile the mean and nasty words I heard being said inside the House chambers with the sight of her lovely little girl playing on the floor quietly.  I literally couldn't stop crying about this horrible treatment, so I wrote down my thoughts, which were published on a local blog Indy Vanguard, and cross-posted on the Huffington Post.

Happily, opponents of the discriminatory legislation far outweighed proponents.  Marya Rose of Cummins Engineering said that Cummins has lost employees because of the anti-gay laws in Indiana.  Carol Trexler, a friend of mine who has been diagnosed with lung cancer, discussed her unsanctioned marriage to another woman, and what their lives are like. “People understand what marriage means. They don’t understand what Donna and I are… Because we were not married Donna could not take medical leave to care for me.”

As the testimony ended, I stood huddled with a group of young LGBT Hoosiers as we waited for results of the vote.  Finally we heard that the committee voted 9-3 along party lines to advance HJR-3 to the full House.  Tired and hungry, we all went home to continue to write and call our legislators.

Monday, January 27th, found us back again at the Statehouse for the Second Reading of HJR-3.  And again I spent most of the day waiting with other red-clad supporters of equality to learn what our fate would be.  It was a very long day because the House was deliberating on other bills as well as ours.  At 12:00 noon the Free Range UU Church held an Interfaith Silent Meditation and Prayer Vigil.  The House convened at 1:30 p.m., and about two hours later they recessed.  We were told that they wanted us to go home, but none of us left.  We stood our ground!  Finally, members of the House returned.  After a few more hours, HJR-3 was brought up for a vote.

The House voted 52-43 to move the proposed amendment to the full Senate, as well as to remove the second sentence, which would have banned civil unions and anything similar to marriage.  This vote moved HJR-3 to a third reading, which was heard on January 28th.  I could not attend that hearing, but I learned that the House voted 57-40 to send the amended version to the full Senate.

If the altered version is adopted by both chambers of the General Assembly, the measure would not go to voters this November as supporters, including Gov. Mike Pence, would have liked.  It could go to the voters in 2016, but no one knows if that will even happen.
So our fight continues.  We are now calling and writing our State Senators.  We are sharing our stories, letting them know how divisive and mean-spirited this proposed bill really is.  Many of us have been fighting this ban for at least ten years.  Others have just joined the fight.  But we are all in this together.  As bad as HJR-3 really is, I realized that something good has come out of it:  I have met the most wonderful people and made the most amazing friends.  I am sure that in the end we will win. I know we're on the right side of history.

Friday, January 24, 2014

PFLAG Maryland Chapters: Partnering on a New Online Resource for Maryland's Trans* Youth

Catherine Hyde, a longtime PFLAG member, PFLAG Howard County trans coordinator, and PFLAG National Board Member, is helping Maryland chapters partner with FreeState Legal to create trans*youth@md, a new website meant to offer answers to legal questions often asked by trans* youth and their parents.

Hyde was quoted in a piece in the Baltimore Sun stating, "We want to help parents figure out what they have to do, what they can do to protect their children."

The site, which is still in the development stages, is meant to provide practical support to parents. While PFLAG meetings can provide emotional support, education on trans issues, and advocacy opportunities, parents of trans kids need very specific assistance on issues such as legal name changes, gender ID on official paperwork, and more. That's where this site comes in.

Hyde believes that, at some point in the near future, the site will being to incorporate personal stories from trans kids and their parents. Her experience with PFLAG has shown her how crucial hearing personal stories from others can be in the journey to acceptance and well as in practical matters, such as experience with personnel in different government offices. Having that information can prepare a family before walking into a meeting "blind."

For more information, visit the new site at
And to submit a question, click here:

Friday, January 17, 2014

PFLAG San Diego: It's Scholarship Season!

PFLAG San Diego has once again teamed up with their members, supporters, and sponsors to offer scholarships to San Diego County residents. These scholarships recognize outstanding LGBT seniors in high school, college, and graduate school, encouraging them to continue their education while promoting a positive image of LGBT youth.

PFLAG SD has numerous scholarships available, including the John Bessemer Memorial Scholarship, named after the husband of past PFLAG SD president Linda Bessemer; the Raytheon STEM scholarship, provided by the members of the Raytheon GLBTA Employee Resource Group to attract, support, and train future LGBT professional in science, technology, engineering, and math; and the Mary Wagner Memorial Scholarship, which honors the eponymous Mary’s enduring commitment to education.

Click here to learn about the many available scholarships and the criteria for applying. 

One of the first recipients of a PFLAG San Diego scholarship was current San Diego City Council President--and interim mayor--Todd Gloria.  Click here to read more about Todd and his experiences thanks to the PFLAG SD scholarship

The deadline for scholarship applications is March 15, 2014. For more information, please contact PFLAG San Diego at

Friday, January 10, 2014

Belinda Carlisle and her son, James Duke Mason, Welcomed by PFLAG Bakersfield

Last night, singer Belinda Carlisle and her son, actor James Duke Mason, were the special guests at a monthly meeting of PFLAG Bakersfield. Duke, gay and out since 2006, has had the full support of his parents, but it was the first time that they publicly shared their coming out journey together.

A huge number of people gathered with PFLAG Bakersfield--as well as other local LGBT organizations including The Trevor Project, Bakersfield Pride, Youth Empowerment Pride Project, and the Bakersfield AIDS Project (which hosted panels from the AIDS quilt, including that of activist Morty Manford, whose mother Jeanne Manford founded PFLAG in 1973).

Click below to see video highlights of the interview with Mason and his mom who, without even realizing it, has the fighting spirit of PFLAG moms everywhere!

The leaders of the Bakersfield chapter have so much to be proud of--from booking wonderful and interesting guests for their meetings to helping bring so many different local organizations together in support of the common goal of support of and equality for people who are LGBQ.

Congratulations, PFLAG Bakersfield!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Equality...Carved in Marble

Today we hear from Brandon Brock, board member of PFLAG Napa and member of PFLAG San Francisco. As you may remember, Brandon and SF PFLAGer Lori Hawkins traveled cross country via train to attend the 2013 PFLAG National Convention. Here's more about his arrival in Washington DC:

Marble was once the most opulent and grandest construction material in the world's most important buildings. Modern living has turned our kitchens, hotel lobbies and bathrooms into glistening showcases full of beautifully laid marble tiles. Our homes have grown into large, luxurious spaces over the last several decades and our casual use of marble in home construction has softened its impact. A recent trip to our nation's capitol provided me with a much richer appreciation of the most famous of metamorphic rock (and countertops).

My train arrived in Washington, DC for the National PFLAG Convention a few days ahead of schedule so I decided to take a quick tour around town. I grew up in Arkansas so I had never visited Washington; the drive was just too far. I had never seen any of the famous buildings or monuments so I stepped out for a sightseeing adventure. Almost all the monuments in DC are fully made of marble and I began to wonder how many marble quarries were expended to create the beautiful city.

Ancient cities like Rome and Athens must have been dazzling places to see. The shining white of temple columns and grand arched domes must have been impressive. It would have been the ultimate conquering of nature for a society that could recreate the world as they wanted. Carved along the walls of those ancient buildings were words that were meant to last forever.

It has always been my dream to visit the Supreme Court and stand at the sight where history has been made. The landmark June Supreme Court rulings that sided in favor of my marriage with my husband, Alex, were still fresh in my mind on that October morning. As I walked past the glistening United States Supreme Court and I had to put on my sunglasses from the reflective glare from its tons and tons of white marble. I felt as if I was wandering around a long-forgotten, ancient city. Impressive even by today's standards, the Supreme Court building reminded me of the Parthenon temple in the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

Here, I saw the first of many chiseled marble carvings at the top of its eight marble columns: "Equal Justice Under Law". Anyone would know, upon just looking at the vast white plaza and intimidating building, that our country aspires to those four chiseled words.

I walked across the street towards the towering dome of the United States Capitol building with its endless marble columns, its beautifully towering dome and well-manicured lawns. Inside, I took a quick tour of the interior and our tour guide whisked us past stately rooms, totally decked out in marble, as bronze and marble statues of politicians and national figures surrounded the circular walls. I felt as if I was in an ancient Roman temple.

Our tour group collectively looked up when we walked under the Capitol's majestic dome. Pictured almost 200 feet above us on its concave surface was a giant fresco painting, The Apotheosis of Washington. Completed in 1865, the artist borrowed figures from the old world and updated them to suit the new American public. Neptune, the Roman god of the Sea, is busy laying the recently-completed Transatlantic Telegraph Cable. Vulcan, Roman god of fire, also appears to have just fabricated a new steam locomotive with his anvil and hammer. It felt like the ancient Roman gods were lending their powers to create our infant country, still less than one hundred years old when originally painted.

I smiled as I noticed a very distinct rainbow stretching across the cloudy scene depicted under the Dome. In the painting, Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, speaks to Benjamin Franklin as young scholars busily write down every word of her divine knowledge with the rainbow jutting through the middle of the scene.

Rainbows painted in 1865 certainly didn't have the LGBT association that they have today. Even though it was painted almost 150 years ago, it seemed as if the Capitol was peeking into the future and knew how powerful the symbol of a rainbow would become. There it was, painted next to portrayals of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, under the dome of the tallest building in Washington, DC.

The rotunda fresco's central point, across from the Minerva's rainbow, features a floating banner that reads in Latin: E Pluribus Unum. "Out of Many, One", a phrase also found on American currency, speaks both to the different states that combine to create the single American country and the diversity of its people. Both would have weighed heavy on the minds of those who were constructing the Capitol done during the days of the Civil War.

My tour group moved on towards the Senate chamber. As we turned a corner, I found an old window that was once an exterior wall from 1793. A bronze plaque announced a sobering glimpse into our country's troubled, complicated past: enslaved African-Americans were used to construct this part of the original Capitol building.

This elegant, majestic symbol that stands for the best facets of America was built using slave labor, just like the marble temples in Ancient Rome. It seems that our civilization borrowed more than just Rome's architecture and love of marble; we borrowed their slavery too. I had not known this fact and it weighed heavy on my mind for the rest of the day's sightseeing.

I left Capitol Hill and strolled towards the tranquil waters of the nearby Tidal Basin. Set alone and among a cluster of trees sat the Jefferson Memorial. Its shape reminded me of Rome's great Pantheon temple with its low domed ceiling and its geometric architecture. The Memorial had the ever-present marble columns along its exterior which opened up for a view of the colossal bronze statue of President Jefferson, centered inside.

The interior of the Jefferson Monument features four of Jefferson's quotes, inscribed into its curving marble walls. I recognized the most famous lines from the Declaration of Independence, which gave America its first breath of personality: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal".

As I read the words written with Jefferson's own pen and now chiseled into marble, I thought back to the 1793 exterior window in the Capitol. President Jefferson was a slave holder. I wondered if the slaves under his control knew the slaves who worked on the Capitol building.
On the opposing wall stood another chiseled quote from Jefferson: "Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind". I raised an eyebrow and I continued reading.

"As new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times".

My jaw literally dropped. Here it seemed that Jefferson is predicting the future. He sees that culture evolves and hopes that our society evolves with it. Jefferson later suggests that we might as well expect our baby clothes to fit us as adults. The chiseled marble wall compares this to a "civilized society to [forever] remain under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors".

At this point, I was convinced that Jefferson is speaking to the future. The "barbarous ancestors" were his generation and their regimen was slavery, among others. He predicted that as one era passes into another, the fresh crop of people and ideas would look towards the former generation as old-fashioned, strange and unnecessary. The marble was speaking to me.

I walked back down the steps of the Memorial and continued along the Tidal Basin towards the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial. It, too, was engulfed in marble.

During his life in public service, President Roosevelt went to great lengths to suppress his disability and his dependence on a wheelchair. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt's words are carved into the memorial: "Franklin's illness taught him the greatest of all lessons- infinite patience and never-ending persistence." Americans today acknowledge Roosevelt's disability not as a sign of weakness but as a sign of strength.

Among the displays of Roosevelt's life and accomplishments was this quote: "We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our civilization." These words ring just as true today as they did when spoken over seventy years ago.

I noticed that the sun was setting so I hurried to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. To call it only breathtaking would be an understatement.

I walked through a small park that lead me to a peaceful marble plaza. Carved into a giant slab of sandstone were the words "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope". On the front side of this block, called The Stone of Hope, is carved Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

King's gaze is across the water towards the Lincoln Memorial, the site of his famous "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963. Arms folded and wearing a suit, the strong figure holds an expression that is stern, confident and forward-looking. Dr. King's statue only appears to be partially carved from the rock. It's as if the sculpture was only half finished; I see this as an metaphor to the civil rights movement at the time of King's assassination. Long dark grey slabs of marble surrounded the statue with over a dozen of his most famous quotes. "The arc of the moral universe bends towards justice" and "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

Words carved in marble present our most cherished ideals. Without saying a word, the marble of Washington explains the ideals of the American people. The perfect proportions and symmetry of the Supreme Court building stands for equality for our diverse population and our complicated history.

Constructed during the Civil War, the United States Capitol building made me ponder the long and slow passage of time and our country's troubled history with slavery. The Roman Gods depicted under its colossal dome gave a direct connection to ancient times and the rainbow which stretches across the painting made me think of patience. Each generation builds on the advances of the generation before it.

The Jefferson Memorial spoke of evolution and the future. Jefferson's own words predicted that today's ideas might be viewed as backwards tomorrow. It gave me hope that the homophobia and transphobia of today will soon be seen as ridiculous as racial segregation in the 1950s.
The Roosevelt Memorial reminded me of inner strength and the overcoming of obstacles. Life's struggles can teach us valuable lessons that we otherwise might not have learned. The Dr. King Memorial represents courage, hope and conviction. One look into the eyes of his statue and I understood the courage of the man and the movement that he ushered in.

Words carved into marble, which may last thousands of years, give Americans the hope and inspiration to works towards that elusive more perfect union that our Constitution strives for.

My day as a tourist came to a close and my aching feet encouraged an early night to bed. Early the next morning, that extra sleep came in handy for the start of the PFLAG convention. As I walked into the convention hall, I thought about all the marble and symbols I discovered the day before. PFLAG's movement envisions a world of support, acceptance and equality and our members are patient enough to work towards those ideals. Equality, hope, inner strength and courage are facets of the American story that PFLAG incorporates into every part of our mission.

I stood in the back of the large convention hall and surveyed the excited convention-goers and I smiled as I realized what I was viewing; PFLAG is a vehicle for all those American ideals carved in marble. Proof is chiseled all over Washington.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

On the Transgender Day of Remembrance, Hope from PFLAG Greater Boston!

Today we hear from PFLAG Greater Boston, about Zachary Kerr, a transgender student leader who is speaking out and giving hope to LGBTQ youth and their families:

Growing up as one of three identical triplets in Methuen, Mass., Zachary Kerr always knew something wasn't quite right about his personal identity. After years of confusion and depression, he discovered that he had been battling gender identity issues and decided to make a transitional journey. Click here to watch Zack's TeenNick video about his discovery and transition.

Throughout this transition Zack faced tough challenges at school from both students and teachers. He then decided to become a positive advocate for the transgender community, in order to help pave the way for more acceptance and equal treatment for others in the same transition.

He joined his school's Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club and soon became president, allowing him to attend the GSA national gathering in Washington, D.C. as a youth representative. He then joined the Massachusetts Safe Schools Program for Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Students, for which he runs workshops and shares his personal story to help educate school staff on how to create safe and encouraging environments. Finally, Zack helped facilitate similar educational programs through PFLAG Greater Boston, where he speaks in large school assemblies, classroom groups, health classes and professional development sessions for teachers.
Zack was awarded a 2013 Scholarship from PFLAG Greater Boston this year, and was recently awarded with a HALO Award from Nickelodeon, including the opportunity to obtain a national platform for Trans* rights, get a $10,000 scholarship for his education, and a $10,000 donation to PFLAG Greater Boston in his honor! 
Another honor: he (along with two other trans* activist teens) were featured in OUT Magazine as one of the OUT 100!

Be sure to catch the great video clips of Zack at the TeenNick HALO Awards here!

We are so proud of all that Zack is doing as a young trans* advocate!