Friday, December 19, 2014

The Thorons: A Legacy of Love

Today we hear from Jeff Johnson, a Communications and Policy intern with PFLAG National. Jeff had the opportunity to meet with longtime PFLAG leaders Sam and Julia Thoron. Following is his report on their journey to becoming dedicated PFLAG leaders, their many years of service, and what the future holds for their LGBTQ advocacy work.

Sam and Julia Thoron observe San Francisco Pride
This week, PFLAG National expresses its deepest gratitude to Julia and Sam Thoron. On Sunday, December 14, Sam and Julia stepped down from the board of PFLAG San Francisco after 25 years of service. The occasion was marked by an informal buffet dinner. PFLAG members, friends and community leaders were in attendance.

Sam and Julia didn’t have a clue that their daughter Liz might be gay. Then in January 1990, during the winter break after Liz’s first semester at college, Liz came out quietly to Julia. Julia gave Liz a big hug and told her she loved her. She suggested it would be best if Liz would tell her father. Julia spent the next few days waiting for the other shoe to drop until Liz finally pinned her father down at the end of the day while Julia was out of the room.

“Dad, I have something to tell you,” Liz said.

You can imagine all the thoughts that went through Sam’s mind. “She is pregnant, she has flunked out of college, she’s going with someone she knows I will loathe.” So, he replied, “Oh?”

“Dad, I’m gay.”

“Oh, are you sure?”

“Yes Dad, I’m sure.”

“Are you sure you are not Bi?”

“Yes, I am sure I am not Bi.”

“How do you know?”

Liz looked her father in the eye and answered, “Dad, how do you know you are heterosexual?”

Sam tells me, “I got it, I understood that being gay was just who Liz is.”

After receiving a loving hug from her father, Liz left the room, and Julia rejoined Sam to process the new information together. They were upset and somewhat tearful, but not angry. Realizing that Liz had not changed, they began asking each other why they were so upset. They went through a litany of stereotypes: “There won’t be a wedding.” They agreed that they would support any form of commitment ceremony Liz might want. “There won’t be grandchildren.” But, if Liz wanted to bring up children, either as a single mom or in a partnership, there were any number of ways this could be accomplished. In any case, the choice would be hers. In the end, Sam and Julia realized that they were scared. “It never occurred to us that one of our children would be discriminated against and even subjected to violence just because of who she was.”

Sam and Julia understood that their daughter had not changed, but they knew they would need help and guidance in assimilating the new information about her and how that would impact their lives. They figured that there must be a group around these issues. Liz had given them two books, both of which suggested PFLAG. In those days, because of the hostile climate, local chapters often did not have an easily accessible public presence. In order to find the local SF chapter, they wrote to the Los Angeles address shown in the references Liz had given them.

On a February day, both Julia and Sam attended a San Francisco meeting and chose that chapter to return to. As Julia explains, “We felt a lot of connection, a sense of being supported.” It was a remarkable experience, Julia says, especially since there was “nobody we knew, of course”. Those in attendance that first meeting made up a mixed group: a married couple, a single parent, a gay man. I followed up, asking what made the meeting such a draw. Sam answered, “It’s the peer support, from people who had walked the path.”

Sam and Julia lead PFLAG in San Francisco Pride Parade
When you consider that Sam would sit on PFLAG National’s board of directors and serve as its 8th President, it is amazing that he almost stopped attending meetings after his third visit. He says, “I was sitting in my third meeting, and I thought, I’m okay with this. I won’t need this in a few more meetings. I’ll stop going.” Then the chapter president said they had a little business to do before they went home. Sam recalls, “In a gentle voice, she said, ‘If nobody steps up, we won’t have a meeting next month.’” She went around the room several times, and no one stepped forward. Finally, one of the members said, “No one has to do it all. We can share leadership.” Five families, including the Thorons, stepped forward to form a steering committee.

I asked Sam to comment on how he went from being done with PFLAG to becoming a Regional Director and then President, and his answer tells us a lot about how movement activism can start with concern for just one person. He describes a chapter meeting coinciding with Mother’s Day 1991 that he and Julia attended, just a year after they began attending meetings and sharing leadership.

Sam says, “Instead of a regular chapter meeting, it was cookies, coffee, and just a conversation.” He walked up to his wife, took her in a loving embrace, and kissed her. He remembers realizing then, “My daughter can’t do this. Julia and I can do this almost anywhere, anytime. And no one will blink. My daughter can’t do this, and that is wrong.”

Sam reflects, “My activism comes from the particular to the general. I believe that my daughter deserves to be treated with the same respect and dignity that flows so naturally to her two straight brothers in every aspect of her life. I believe that she deserves all the rights, privileges, and obligations of full citizenship. If she deserves this, so does everyone else.”

As shared leaders of San Francisco chapter, Sam and Julia met Mitzi Henderson, who at the time was PFLAG Director of the Mid Pacific Region. One of the many jobs of Regional Director is to guide new chapter leaders, bringing her into close contact with the Thorons. In 1992, Mitzi was elected to be PFLAG National President. Sam reflects, “Getting more involved meant being around long enough to be asked.” As Mitzi moved from Regional Director to President, she asked Sam to serve as a Regional Director; he agreed.

Meanwhile, Julia became very active at the local level. She focused much of her energy on meeting people at the community level, especially partnering with LGBT groups.

“I wanted to be as much of a presence in the LGBT community as I could,” Julia explains.

Sam talks about the importance of that work. He can’t do it, but Julia is good at talking to other people. Julia volunteers, “I like talking to strangers.” She got involved in conventions. Remembering their difficulty finding a local chapter, Julia urged and assisted the steering committee to establish a helpline. Julia says, “This was a publicly accessible phone number so that people could find us, which is really important.”

Sam and Julia receive award at 2011 National Convention
Much of this led to situations wherein Sam and Julia had to consider how visible they were willing to be. As Sam puts it, “If you are around long enough to be asked, the stakes get higher. When we are asked to push the envelope of our comfort zone, we ask ourselves, ‘Okay, do we care about equality for our daughter?’ The answer is always yes. So we agree to push the envelope.”

Sam continues, “So once you’ve been asked enough and you say yes, it gets to be that there is no envelope.”

This is how Sam and Julia found themselves at the forefront of the “No on 8” campaign. They were asked to appear in a campaign commercial against California’s 2008 ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage in the state, known as Prop 8. Sam and Julia’s faces appeared on California TVs all across the state during the 2008 election season defending their daughter’s fundamental right to marriage equality. The amendment passed. “That was a low for me,” Sam remembers. “Our failure to defeat Prop 8.”

But there were plenty of highs.

Julia says, “A seminal experience for me was the 1994 convention.” Julia led the planning committee for the 1994 National Convention held in the Bay Area. She recalls how energizing it was, bringing people together, sharing resources with all of the chapters. “So many people came forward to help, I didn’t do anything really, just went down the checklist, okay we need to do this, and so many people offered their connections, ‘Oh, I know so and so, someone to do entertainment, someone to give a workshop, a speaker.’ Those are the type of people who built it.” Julia reflects, “It was very fulfilling to me to be working with so many people, working on change in the best way possible. I mean, a PR person came forward to help us get the word out nationally. A lot of energy.” The convention is remembered as a big success, with 84 volunteers and 1100 attendees. “There were 15 seminar rooms, and they were never empty.”

After 25 years of PFLAG involvement, Sam and Julia haven’t lost sight of the source of their commitment to change hearts and minds. Prop 8 was eventually overturned, and last April Liz married her partner Lisa. Both Sam and Julia agree. It was the highlight of their careers.

Sam happily notes, “It was a private ceremony at our summer home.”

Julia adds, “It rained the day before, and it rained the day after, but the weather was beautiful on the day of the wedding.”

“It was truly a joyful and fulfilling day.”
Though stepping down from their chapter work, Sam and Julia will always be an important force for advocacy and change for PFLAG.

We will miss their day-to-day wisdom and passion but at PFLAG National, we are already talking about how their historical knowledge can be archived so we do not lose that first–hand narrative and contribution to the organization’s history. 

Sam and Julia have created a legacy of incredible change in the world; we are grateful to them for many years of service to PFLAG, and know that they have truly made the world a better place for all of us, LGBTQ and allies alike.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Linda and Mac Stroupe of PFLAG Greensboro Win Bob Page Equality Champion Award

This week, we would like to congratulate PFLAG Greensboro's Linda and Mac Stroupe on earning Equality NC’s 2014 Bob Page Equality Champion Award. The award, named after a leader in North Carolina’s LGBT movement, was presented to the Stroupes by Equality NC at a gala event on November 22. Bob Page is the founder and chairman of Greensboro-based Replacements Limited, a china, silver, and glassware company (and, of note, a long-time corporate sponsor of PFLAG National). Bob and Replacements Ltd. have been in the news for public support of marriage equality.

Linda and Mac have been active PFLAGers for 18 years. In 1996, their son Carter came out while he was in middle school. The following year, Linda and Mac joined PFLAG Greensboro. Linda now serves as PFLAG South Atlantic Regional Director (NC, SC, KY and TN) and sits on the PFLAG National Board of Directors.

Linda and Mac began gaining the attention of
Equality NC in 2012. That election year, voters in North Carolina passed a state constitutional amendment prohibiting the state from recognizing same-sex marriages or civil unions. The Stroupes vigorously campaigned against the amendment, leading rallies, panel discussions, voter education events, and fundraisers. As Linda has said, “Marriage is a unique event in our society in which we celebrate, and our laws affirm, the union of two people. It is the exact opposite of the lack of acceptance that many gay men and women like my son Carter have known.”

Much of that work was successful. The amendment was found unconstitutional in October 2014.
As Equality NC states, “We’re proud to say Linda and Mac were standing beside us once again at the Guilford County Register of Deeds office when their-long fight for marriage equality in North Carolina came to an end and the freedom to marry became the law of the land.”

Congratulations Linda and Mac! PFLAG National is grateful for all your tireless work to advance equality.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Congratulations to the leadership of Portland Black Chapter!

Great news from Portland:  

Khalil Edwards
Portland State University recently honored Khalil Edwards with a Rising Leaders Award. Edwards is one of the leaders of the PFLAG Portland Black Chapter, the first PFLAG chapter in the nation created by and for the black community, and dedicated to supporting African American LGBTQ persons, families, and friends through love, education and advocacy. Edwards award was presented by another local PFLAG leader, Maurice Evans. 

The award was presented at an event honoring Oregon’s civil rights legacy, recognizing local leaders fighting for equality.

Click here to read more about the event. 

Congratulations to those honored, especially to Khalil! Your work is making a huge difference!

Friday, November 28, 2014

PFLAG Council of Northern Illinois Builds Networks

Retiring National President Rabbi David Horowitz.
Photo by Gretchen Rachel Blickensderfer.
A chapter meeting is hard work. Changing hearts and minds is sometimes a balancing act. Attendees are prodded to participate, but discussion must be skillfully facilitated. The payoff of this work might not be immediately clear. It often seems like chapter members take small steps into the larger PFLAG network at a glacial pace.

Toni Weaver is in a unique position to understand both the intricacies of chapter work and the promise of tapping into a larger network. She serves as president of PFLAG McHenry while simultaneously presiding over the PFLAG Council of Northern Illinois. She also knows that networking takes time and careful planning. Almost a year ago, she reached out to other Illinois chapter presidents and members. They began planning a workshop day that was held on November 8th in Palatine, Illinois. “The workshop day evolved over a period of ten months,” Toni explained. “And with each team meeting, ideas were developed or discarded as we watched the workshop take shape through multiple evolutions.”

The planners were particularly grateful to Gail Hanson of PFLAG DuPage. She developed the theme of the workshop, “Building Relationships, Deepening Leadership, Igniting Passion.” Toni said, "The initial theme as articulated by Gail kept the team on focus and on task."

“We billed the November 8 event as a workshop day, not as a conference,” Toni noted. “Because we wanted to stress that the day was not intended for passive listening but for active participation.”

Toni reflected on the team’s goal to strengthen a PFLAG network: “By keeping people together for the entire day, rather than dispersing into break-out sessions, we fostered a sense of togetherness and succeeded in building and strengthening the relationships among all PFLAG chapter members who attended.”

Toni continued, “A sense of belonging to the greater PFLAG beyond the boundaries of one's individual chapter was one of our primary goals, and we feel that we achieved what we set out to do.”

The workshop opened with a keynote presentation by the out-going National President, Rabbi David Horowitz. Quoted in the Windy City Media Group, Rabbi Horowitz said, “Being on the board for 12 years was phenomenal. I cannot begin to tell you how exciting [the past four years] have been. But I have always been and will continue to always be a PFLAG dad. I know that the heart of PFLAG is in your chapters and that’s where we make a difference.”

Rabbi Horowitz’s comment about the importance of chapter work segued into the next activity, “Getting to Know You.” Toni explained, “‘Getting to Know You’ resembled a PFLAG meeting. Workshop attendees were encouraged to move out of their comfort zone to mix and mingle with folks from other chapters. People at each table, under the direction of a table facilitator, introduced themselves and shared their stories of what brought them to PFLAG, much as is done at regular chapter meetings. Conversation was so intense that it proved difficult to wrap up this activity to move on to the next.”

In the afternoon, two Parents of Transgendered Individuals (PTI) support groups presented their work. Toni explains, “The PTI panel's purpose was to discuss how to make individual PFLAG chapters more helpful to and supportive of parents whose offspring identify as transgender. While many of their issues are similar to those of parents of gay, lesbian, and bisexual children, their concerns move way beyond ours, and the information and support they need is so specific to their situation. Through the sharing of their personal journeys, the audience could, for a moment, walk in their shoes.”

Afterward, PFLAG National Executive Director Jody Huckaby led an interactive seminar in how to blend one’s story into everyday talk. The goal was to show “how easily one’s story can be woven into casual conversation,” Toni said. “After some basic instruction, PFLAG folks were encouraged to take the floor and practice their own stories.”

By all accounts, the workshop was a huge success. Of course, there are always lessons to learn. To other chapter members interested in planning something similar, one issue to consider is confidentiality. Toni reflected, “In the future, we will ask participants whether or not they wish to be photographed or have their names in publications that will reach a non-PFLAG audience. While this may seem obvious in a PFLAG meeting, it's not so obvious in something as public as a large workshop or conference.”

PFLAG National congratulates the PFLAG Council of Northern Illinois--Toni Weaver of PFLAG McHenry, Gail Hanson of PFLAG DuPage, all the planners and participants--for a great workshop. Network building is tough work, but you pulled it off with much aplomb.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Fortune Brings the Fortune Home To Support Her Mom's PFLAG Chapter

Earlier this year, Fortune Feimster--a comedian who, in addition to her many appearances on Chelsea Lately and Last Comic Standing is now developing her own series with funny woman Tina Fey--did a little PFLAG role reversal: instead of her mother supporting her, she traveled home to Belmont, North Carolina to support her mom...and PFLAG Gaston.

After the chapter ran into an issue with a local restaurant owner who declined to allow his business to be used for a fundraiser for the chapter (stating he didn't work with partisan or contentious groups), Fortune traveled home to support her mom, Ginger, participating in the second annual Charlotte Pride Parade.

Fortune one bettered herself: she paid for the float and even rode on it for the parade! And she also set up a crowdfund for the chapter, which in the end raised close to $3,000 for the chapter.

Quoted in the Gaston Gazette, Feimster said, “Since they were running into some obstacles
Feimster with mother Ginger and brother Jay
and I believe their work to be imperative to the gay community, I decided to step in and help. Because I support any group that supports me.”

“It’s always good to be supported and that works both ways,” said Ginger Feimster, in the same Gazette piece. “(Fortune) is very vocal, but she’s also very respectful, in a very positive way.”

To learn more about PFLAG Gaston, visit

Friday, November 14, 2014

PFLAG Metro DC Youth Group Going On 5 Years

In 2008, friends and advocates Carol Lewis and Nancy Brown recognized a problem. Nancy, then-facilitator of the Fairfax support group of PFLAG Metro DC, had noted that many high schools offered space and time to LGBTQ youth by way of a gay-straight alliance (GSA). But this time and space was absent at the middle-school level.

Within a year, Carol had become a co-facilitator of the Fairfax group when a father attended a meeting to find a space for his gay son, who had come out in middle school only to be deserted by his friends. This confirmed for Carol that she needed to put together a youth group.

Carol turned to her own son Ted Lewis, current Director of LGBTQ Life at the University of Richmond. Ted had volunteered extensively for Time Out Youth in North Carolina. TOY, founded in 1991 as an LGBTQ youth organization, employs an executive director and a part-time staff.

“Steve Bentley, the exec, sent me their facilitator’s manual and code of conduct and ethical principles,” recalls Carol. Carol also contacted the Associate Director for LGBTQ Resources at George Mason University to line up some facilitators. Carol then did a letter campaign, writing to local school principals, GSA directors, and healthcare professionals to alert them to her group and ask that they consider the group as a potential resource. With people and policies in place, the first gathering of the Western Fairfax Youth Meeting took place on February 2, 2010.

“Clumsy name but it was a start.” Carol explains, “Later the kids changed it to FLY: Fairfax LGBTQ Youth.”

Carol organized FLY meetings to concur with her regular support meetings, the first Tuesday of every month. The kids meet separately from the adults, though a major strength of the youth group is that the adults are willing to listen and be flexible.

“The kids wanted to meet twice a month so they started meeting on the 3rd Sunday afternoon,” said Carol. “Then the kids said FLY would be better attended if the adult group met then too, so we did that.”

After experimenting with different meeting days, FLY took off when it organized its second meeting as a teen lounge that meets on the third Friday of every month. FLY teen lounge alternates as a pizza and movie night held in a local church and a hangout at an outside venue, usually a coffee shop in nearby Vienna.

“On the whole, we get more kids at lounges than at meetings, usually five or so at meetings, eight to ten at lounges, “ explained Carol. A pottery night attracted the most kids. “We tried ice skating—two kids—and once at a local decorate your own pottery place, which was hugely successful, 19 kids.”

Carol concludes, “FLY provides educational opportunities, but more often than not, the kids just want to talk. They really sort of take over! We've done healthy relationships (HIV/STIs safe sex), mental health, yoga, stress, LGBTQ colleges, LGBTQ history, coming out. But if the kids want to talk, the facilitators are willing to scrap the program. My original intent was for FLY to be a safe place where LGBTQ kids and allies could meet, be together in a confidential environment, and socialize. If we provide some education, that's all to the good, but it's their meeting.“

PFLAG National is grateful to
PFLAG Metro DC and the Fairfax group for all their work to put together FLY. If your chapter is interested in learning more about how to work effectively and safely with LGBTQ youth in your own community, please contact your field manager.

Friday, November 7, 2014

PFLAG Springfield Celebrates 20 Years!

If you had asked Christy Boyce in November 1994 about the future of her proposed PFLAG chapter in Springfield, Missouri, she might have been doubtful. Her classified ad calling for volunteers elicited only one response. However, as current chapter president Kathy Munzinger recalls, “Christy and the ad respondent set to work, a meeting ensued, and the power of two launched a lasting PFLAG chapter that’s provided 20 years of support for the LGBT community.” PFLAG National is pleased to wish PFLAG Springfield a happy 20th anniversary!

PFLAG Springfield is no stranger to the spotlight. It won the National Chapter Advocacy Award in 2013 for its billboard campaign to spread a message of awareness and love. Four billboards in prominent Springfield locations continue to announce, “Someone You Know and Love is Gay.” The campaign is crucial to Kathy and her chapter members. “Springfield is Missouri’s third-largest city and the heart of a socially conservative area, so the advocacy component of PFLAG’s mission is equally important to its 63 chapter members.” Kathy continues, “To heighten awareness of Missouri’s lack of equality protections, three additional billboards were introduced in 2014 with the message that ‘Someone You Know and Love Can Be Fired for Being Gay.’”

To celebrate and reflect on its twenty years in the Ozarks region of Missouri, PFLAG Springfield will host a dinner and movie on November 16th at the Old Glass Place on St. Louis Street. The movie showing will be a local premiere of “Two: The Story of Roman & Nyro.” The film portrays two lifelong partnered fathers and their twin sons. One of the dads is songwriter Desmond Child, whose rock star friend Jon Bon Jovi agreed to godfather his twin sons. The celebration is a ticketed affair, but the $15 cost can count toward 2015 chapter membership. “This allows people who are not members to join at a cost that is less than half of our regular individual membership,” Kathy says.

Over the course of two decades, PFLAG Springfield has participated in many firsts for the Missourian LGBT community, including the first Aids Memorial Quilt and the first PRIDE event in Springfield. Kathy notes that much work remains for the PFLAGers. “The chapter will join a coalition that is forming to counteract an impending repeal effort of the city’s recently amended anti-discrimination ordinance that now includes the protections for sexual orientation and gender identity,” Kathy explains. “Other cities in the central United States have seen similar protections repealed, and we don’t want that to happen here.”

PFLAG National supports your work to build awareness, secure protections, and spread the message of love for our LGBT family and friends. Happy 20th Anniversary! Here’s to many more.

Friday, October 31, 2014

North Carolina Achieves Marriage Equality...and PFLAG is There To Celebrate!

Today is the final day of October, which means one more chance to celebrate LGBTQ History Month. And October 2014 will certainly go down in history as a turning point for marriage equality.
October 06, 2014 may not be easy to remember since no landmark ruling was issued on that day. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court’s decision not to review lower court reversals of marriage bans in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming set in motion a process that brought marriage equality to those states, plus Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, West Virginia, and Wyoming. With 14 states in one month, marriage equality is now a reality in 32 states. That we and our LGBTQ friends and family were able to see this progress during a month designated for celebrating major achievements in LGBTQ history is icing on the cake!

Jerry Miller of PFLAG Flat Rock/Hendersonville literally saw that progress firsthand. North Carolina officially achieved marriage equality on October 10th, and Jerry was proud to bear witness. “In order for it to be real to me,” he said, “I had to join three couples at the register of deeds (that) morning as they applied for AND received their marriage licenses.” He counts one couple as close friends. He joked that, “the others were the only ones there at 9 am.” What about those in an often thankless and bureaucratic position? “The clerks were fantastic.”

Thank you, Jerry, for bearing witness on a historic day! PFLAG extends congratulations to your good friends, and to all of our LGBTQ friends and family who are able to have their love and commitment legally honored in 14 more states!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Garden State Legislators Honor PFLAG Chapters!

Last Friday, the Garden State officially celebrated the 20th anniversary of LGBT History Month by recognizing all six New Jersey PFLAG chapters during a special legislative session. Then on Tuesday, Congressman Frank Pallone held a conference call with state LGBT leaders to mark the first anniversary of New Jersey marriage equality.

To officially celebrate and recognize New Jersey’s PFLAG chapters and the work they’ve been doing to move equality forward, , New Jersey Assemblymen Tim Eustace and Reed Gasciora reached out to members from all six chapters in the state. The assemblymen invited chapter members to the State House in Trenton for an official reception. Seth Raines of Jersey Shore PFLAG and Linda Murphy of PFLAG Collinswood were able to attend the special legislative session officially recognizing LGBT History Month, where they accepted a written commendation of PFLAG’s role in advancing the work and support of people who are LGBTQ.. Each chapter received an official copy of the commendation.

Then, New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone held a conference call with LGBT leaders on Tuesday, October 21st, to celebrate the one-year anniversary of marriage equality in the Garden State. Abby Maisonave, North Atlantic Regional Director, and member of PFLAG Jersey Shore, participated in call. 

Congratulations to all six New Jersey PFLAG chapters! We are so proud of the work you do on behalf of our LGBTQ loved ones, their families, and friends! 

Friday, October 17, 2014

And the nominees are... Send in YOUR Submissions for 2015 PFLAG National Awards NOW!

Ever get caught up in the excitement of awards nominations? Wonder who will be recognized as the best performers in their fields each year? Find yourself asking how nominees earn their status? Well, now is your chance to get in on some of the exciting awards action yourself: help us determine this year’s nominees for the 2015 PFLAG National Awards!
You can now submit YOUR nominations for some of PFLAG’s highest honors, which will be presented at the PFLAG National Convention, which will be held in Nashville, TN October 16-18, 2015.
You have the opportunity to make nominations in three categories:
  • The Starr Award: This award is named in honor of Adele Starr, founder and first president of PFLAG National. The Starr Award is intended to recognize an individual within our membership who has made special personal contributions to PFLAG and its mission.
  • The Flag Bearer Award: The PFLAG Flag Bearer Award is given in acknowledgement of the accomplishments of a PFLAG or a non-PFLAG individual/s, businesses, and organizations that have made lasting contributions to the safety and/or equality of our LGBTQ children, family and friends. A recipient of the Flag Bearer Award can be a member of PFLAG but the work the person or persons are doing is being done outside the framework of the PFLAG organization.
  • The Betty Degeneres Advocate Award: This award is named in honor of Betty Degeneres, mother of celebrity Ellen Degeneres, who has used her public stature to educate diverse groups, primarily outside of the PFLAG chapter network, about the critical role of parent, family and ally affirmation of people who are LGBTQ.
Betty DeGeneres accept the first ever  Betty DeGeneres
Advocate Award at the 2011 PFLAG National Convention
“Take a look around your state and think about who would make a great Starr award nominee. You likely have someone in your membership who is always going above and beyond. Or perhaps you know of a non-member or even someone in the news who has been helping with the fight for equality who would be perfect for the Flag Bearer or Betty Degeneres awards,” said Kay Heggestad, co-chair of the PFLAG Board Awards Committee. “Nominate them, now’s the time!”
These awards are a prime opportunity for you to take leadership in ensuring that people who have demonstrated outstanding contributions to PFLAG’s mission and goals are getting the recognition that they deserve. All nominations will be reviewed by a panel of PFLAG member leaders, and final recommendations for awards will be submitted to and approved by the PFLAG Board.
“This is a chance for you to help highlight people who can serve as inspirations to us all who otherwise might not get a platform to talk about their work,” said Bobbie Barry, committee co-chair. “And what better place to spotlight this work than at the PFLAG National Convention!”
Ready to get started with your nominations? All nominations are done online, through the ProposalSpace system. You will need to create a login to submit, but doing so is free.

The nomination period closes at 11:59pm on February 1, 2015. So submit a nominee now! Your nomination may just be the one that creates PFLAG’s next big award winner!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Some sad news from Pennsylvania...

Today we hear from John Otto, President of our Philadelphia chapter, about the unexpected death of Melina Waldo. Melina served as a member of the PFLAG National board and as a Regional Director; she remained a passionate advocate in her local chapter, too. 

Among her many great contributions to advancing the PFLAG mission, Melina's 2003 Capitol Hill meeting with Senator Rick Santorum is the thing many of us will remember most. The Philadelphia Inquirer published the letter she wrote about that meeting, and John Otto provides it to us below as a reminder of the powerful impact of the PFLAG voice as told in her own beautiful words. 

We hope that you enjoy it as much as we did.  

It is with the deepest sorrow that I inform you of the sudden passing of Melina Waldo on Monday October 6.  Melina was a long time Philadelphia board member who most recently headed up our Speaker's Bureau.  She was also past chapter president , North Atlantic Regional director and PFLAG National Board Member.  Melina was known for her wise council, her ability to soothe a distraught parent and here willingness to speak her mind, taking on the politicians who for years blocked LGBT civil rights. 

Below is a classic letter to the editor that Melina wrote about her encounter with PA Senator Rick Santorum 11 years ago. 

As the parent of a gay son, I visit Washington occasionally to lobby Congress on equal rights. But nothing prepared me for the heated meeting I had with Sen. Rick Santorum (R., Pa.) two weeks ago.

Our son came out as gay during his freshman year at Penn State. Learning that he was gay was as unexpected as it was disturbing to my husband and me.
Worried about his future and afraid of losing our close relationship with him, fortunately I found a group called Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. PFLAG is a wonderful organization of caring people with whom I could discuss my fears, and learn from gay people the reality of their lives.
PFLAG’s annual “lobby days” encourage our members to go to Washington to meet with our representatives. On one of these annual trips, I had an encounter with on Capitol Hill with a clergyman who loudly interrupted me and pushed me as I was being interviewed by a reporter.
My son told me at the time: “You’re their worst nightmare, Mom!” He explained that the last thing the far right wants people to see is a mother speaking up for her gay child.
That minister is old by now and Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond are retired; but lest we advocates of equal rights for our gay loved ones grow complacent, along comes Santorum to take up the torch.
What was to have been a routine visit to Washington took on an unexpected urgency when Santorum, in an Associated Press interview discussing the upcoming Supreme Court review of the Texas sodomy law, compared our gay and lesbian children to criminals, linking the rights of homosexuals to pedophiles, polygamists and people who commit incest.
Such false and inflammatory remarks from one so high in our government could not go unanswered. Fran Kirschner, president of PFLAG Philadelphia, through great persistence, obtained an appointment with the senator.
Fran; her husband, Allen; my husband, Dick, and I set out for Washington on the morning of May 1. We hoped to appeal to Santorum on a parent-to-parent basis, not to discuss policy, especially because we were told we would have only 10 minutes.
How to express the hurt to our families, the fears about our children’s safety, and the contributions of gay and lesbian Americans?
We spoke for a few minutes with his aide—who, by the way, could teach his boss something about respect and manners—and then the senator strode in. In my heart at that moment were every gay person who ever told me his or her story, every injustice against gay people known to me, and of course, my own dear son.
As a shorthand way of putting a human face on the issue for him, I placed in front of Santorum a photo of my son and me at my 60th birthday celebration, and something else, which I described as one of my most precious possessions. He barely gave them a glance.
We tried valiantly to make him see the connection between his awful remarks and damage to our families. Hateful words give permission to those who would harm our loved ones.
We talked about our children; he lectured us on the nonexistence of the right to privacy.
We said he was elected to represent all the people of the commonwealth; he talked about his duty to uphold the Constitution (his version).
I objected to his interpretation of the right to privacy, insisting that most legal scholars did not agree with him. I told him the law can distinguish consensual acts between two adults expressing their love for one another and incest. He told me that he was a lawyer, implying, of course, that I am not.
He was arrogant, belligerent, argumentative and condescending. His vigorous defense of himself stretched the meeting to a half hour or more.
He blamed the media for the uproar: He was misquoted, misunderstood, taken out of context. I wondered what had become of the virtue of taking responsibility for one’s words and deeds that conservatives love to preach to others.
I found in him the perfect incarnation of the closed mind. And, yes, as reported, he did trip over a chair in his haste to leave the meeting.
The story, I believe, has implications far beyond the gay community and its supporters, numerous though we are. Santorum and others like him have a view of our beloved country at odds with what the vast majority of Americans want.
The irony of our having just waged a war for the freedom of Iraqis as we lose our rights at home should not escape our notice. I believe Santorum and his far-right supporters oppose civil rights for gay citizens. The question for all Americans is: Who’s next?

Oh, and that most precious possession I tried to get the senator to look at? It was a birthday card from my son that showed a child drawing a heart in the sand. It reads: “Before I could spell it, before I could say it, I loved you, Mom.”
Melina never quit. Her testimony in 2008 in favor of marriage equality is just as moving, just as powerful, just as strong.

Watch, listen...and then take a moment and consider how you might continue Melina's work as you move forward.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The 2014 Northeast Regional Conference

Today we hear from our Eastern Region Field & Policy Manager, Jamie Curtis, who attended and presented at the 2014 Northeast Regional Conference.

Last weekend, 35 PFLAGers from across New England gathered on Cape Cod for the PFLAG Northeast Regional Conference. PFLAG Cape Cod hosted the conference which kicked off with an informal bon fire on the beach Friday night. Some of the early-arriving attendees enjoyed the opportunity to share informally over s’mores on the chilly fall night!

Amy Mesirow, Regional Director for the Northeast Region, started the day Saturday welcoming the attendees and introducing Beth Kohm, PFLAG National Deputy Executive Director, who spoke about PFLAG’s upcoming name, mission, and vision changes that were recently shared in the PFLAGpole. In addition to asking questions, participants shared how the change can help lead to conversations and education.

Like all regional conferences, there was lots of time for learning in workshops. Chapter members throughout the region presented workshops on meeting facilitation, chapter technology, chapter leadership and trans best practices. In addition, participants shared their own experiences and lessons learned in their chapter.

I was lucky enough to be able to present a plenary session to the entire group. I shared best practices for chapters to help build PFLAG’s name in their communities, as well as formal and informal ways for chapters to get noticed and build their reputations.

I helped present a closing session in which PFLAG Greater Boston, PFLAG Cape Cod and PFLAG Providence all shared their best practices for including programming and education in their activities. This informal session provided a great opportunity for all participants to share their favorite education program ideas.

Overall it was a great event, and I look forward to the next one in 2016!

Friday, September 26, 2014

PFLAG New Prague Area Debuts!

Today we hear from Kathy Gage, board member of a new Minnesota chapter, PFLAG New Prague Area:

I was a little nervous, but mostly excited. We are actually going to do this! The New Prague area support group had just become officially associated with PFLAG this past May. Our eight family group knew that there were more people out there who needed the same thing, but were either unaware of our presence or afraid to come for help. Our community is a rural, small town of about 7,400 people. You don’t just hop in the car for a quick trip to Target. Like most other communities, there is a need to be safe, to be accepted, and to belong.

Upon the recommendations of the PFLAG website, we put ourselves out there. We placed an advertisement in the community education catalogue, we put an article in the local newspaper, we got a website, and we met with the PFLAG National Field & Policy staffer for our region, Brooke Senter. 

But this next step is what stretched us even more, made us feel vulnerable, made us visible. We walked in the Dozinky Farm Pride Parade!

At first we didn't know if we could rally enough people. We solicited the support of friends and family and were pleasantly surprised to have over 50 people walk with us! A high school student was instrumental in getting about a dozen teenagers to come along. One woman chased us down on her bicycle and hopped on the float, bike and all. There were scowls and frowns and looks of puzzlement along the parade route after reading our signs. There were also smiles, waving, and clapping for us. One woman said, “Oh, my word!“ Another woman said, “Well, it’s about time!” 

When we passed the parade announcer, I had a feeling of pride as he said our name and our purpose. Yes. Yes, we are here for each other. I’m not sure if it’s possible to communicate to our fellow parade walkers just how important their participation is to us. My heart is full of gratitude. I’m also very proud of the PFLAG New Prague Area Chapter members. Each one contributed in a big way to make the parade float a reality and ultimately our presence known in the community. 

We belong here because there is a need to support, educate, and advocate. I am looking forward to what will happen next, so Czech us out!

Friday, September 19, 2014

PFLAG Philly Board Member to be Honored

PFLAG Philadelphia Board Member, and
Jaci Adams OutProud Transgender Award
Recipient, Dawn Munro
PFLAG Philadelphia proudly announced that their board member, and Trans-activist, Dawn Munro, has been awarded The Jaci Adams OutProud Transgender Award by Philly Pride Presents, and will be honored at the October 12th OutFest Philadelphia .

OutFest Philadelphia is one of the LGBTQ Pride Events associated with National Coming Out Day. It is an annual event that attracts over 30,000 people.

The Jaci Adams OutProud Transgender Award is named for the LGBT and HIV/AIDS activist who passed away earlier this year; Adams was the inaugural recipient of the award at last year's OutFest.

Dawn has dedicated her life to bringing the plight of LGBTQ people to the forefront and continues to work hard toward bringing understanding, affirmation, and civil rights for the transgender community.

Congratulations, Dawn, from PFLAGers everywhere!

Friday, September 5, 2014

PFLAG Madison the Marriage Equality Bus Tour

Today we hear from Jeanne Williams of PFLAG Madison about a fun and exciting event that her chapter participated in late last month:

Members of PFLAG Madison participated in the Marriage Equality Bus Tour to Chicago send-off on Monday, August 25, 2014.  

Members Karen Baker & Casey Garhart are shown below with Keith and Johannes, who are one of four Wisconsin couples suing over the ban limiting marriages to heterosexual couples.  The case, which began Tuesday, August 26, continues in the 7th Circuit Court in Chicago.

And what wonderful timing...just today the 7th Circuit Court issued a scathing, unequivocal ruling declaring that the bans on same-sex marriage in Wisconsin and Indiana were unconstitutional.

Friday, August 29, 2014

East Coast PFLAG Chapters Co-Sponsor Gender Conference This November

Mark Your Calendar for November 14th and 15th!

East Coast Professionals' & Family Gender Conference is an exciting event on the East Coast in support of trans and other gender-expansive children and youth. PFLAG, Gender Spectrum, and the The Ackerman Institute's Gender and Family Project are co-sponsoring this conference, which is dedicated solely to the needs of families with gender-expansive kids. 

Slated for Maryland (final location to be announced shortly), this two-day conference will focus on support, education, and advocacy in for families, and will include tracks for youth.

Friday November 14th will be a day of workshops, discussion and networking for professionals supporting children, teens, and caregivers interested in learning about how gender and gender diversity impacts their work. Content will include issues from various fields, including education, legal, medical, mental health and social services.

Saturday November 15th is a family day, full  of programming that explores and celebrates gender diversity in all of its forms! Informative workshops for parents and caregivers, a separate day of workshops and activities for teens, and specific programming for both kids and tweens.

Visit to add yourself to the update list for plans as they progress!