It was 45 years ago this month that the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays got their official start, and in the nearly-half century since, PFLAG has transformed American attitudes on gender, sexual orientation and equal rights for all. In celebration, let’s look at the beginning of PFLAG history.
PFLAG’s origins go back a year before its official founding, to April of 1972. A gay activist named Morty Manford had been handing out fliers at a political gathering, and was beaten so severely he was hospitalized. At the time, it was common for police to ignore violence against LGBT people, and to even perpetrate it themselves. Morty’s mother, Jeanne Manford, was outraged and began writing letters to newspapers and calling radio shows to complain of police indifference.
She followed that up by marching in New York’s Pride parade that year, carrying a sign that read “Parents of Gays unite in support for our children.” Other parents reached out to her, and soon Jeanne Manford was meeting regularly with other like-minded family members of queer people. Their first formal meeting was on March 11, 1973, and brought in 20 people.
Over the next few years, other chapters formed around the country, spurred on largely by word of mouth. Their mission was to provide support to family members, to urge for the passage of laws that would protect queer people and to secure messages of tolerance from high-profile figures.
Two big breaks for the organization came at the end of the 1970s. First was the March on Washington in 1979, which allowed disconnected groups from all over the country to meet and coordinate for the first time. The second was a mention in the “Dear Abby” column. That single mention prompted thousands of people to write letters to the organization, each of which received a personal response from volunteers.
By this point, PFLAG had grown significantly, and became an officially recognized nonprofit headquartered in Los Angeles. They worked tirelessly to advance LGBT equality by showcasing the allyship of straight family and friends. One of their most notable national campaigns was countering the messages of Anita Bryant, a famous anti-gay crackpot. The group also fought to establish protections for LGBT servicemembers.
In the 1990s, PFLAG coordinated a national ad campaign that called out televangelists for their harmful rhetoric. A local chapter in Massachusetts successfully pushed for the country’s first Safe Schools legislation. And members were able to secure a decision from the Department of Education that schools are obligated to protect queer students from harassment.
The group has always taken steps to remain on the cutting edge of equality, instituting the first trans-inclusive work policy of any LGBT nonprofit in the country in 1998.
More recently, PFLAG launched the Straight for Equality campaign to highlight how all Americans can be good allies, and then expanded that project with a campaign called Straight for Equality in Faith Communities. Both programs have been updated since their founding to include resources for trans people.
Today, PFLAG’s work has never been more urgent, with Republican officials using federal offices to reverse the gains of the last 45 years. Whether at the Department of Education, Department of Justice or Department of Health and Human Services, PFLAG is maintaining a vigilant watch for anti-queer activity within the Trump administration. There’s been a lot of progress over the last half-century; but without someone to protect them, all those advances could be lost.
Did you know about PFLAG history? Do you have any good experiences with PFLAG? Let us know in the comments!
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