Happy 40th Birthday, PFLAG!

It’s PFLAG’s birthday, everybody, and I personally want to put on my party hat and start handing out the cake. If you’re unfamiliar with PFLAG, the letters stand for Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and as of today they have been educating, supporting, and advocating for 40 glorious years. (Bisexual and transgender folks, don’t worry about their official name, they fully support and have resources for you, too. They even have another acronym set for their Transgender Network, TNET.) PFLAG is one of the oldest and most far-reaching queer organizations in the United States, with over 200,000 members and 350 local chapters. And when I saw their contingent walking up in the Pride Parade I attended this month, I said, “Oh God, PFLAG!,” and started crying immediately. PFLAG always punches me in the gut emotionally more than almost any other group, and I don’t think I’m the only one. Why?

Photo by Jill Guccini

Because I love Obama supporting marriage equality and I love rainbow colored Oreos. But in the end, what always matters most — especially to young people — is the love and support of those who are closest to you. It is that love and support that makes or breaks us.

The story of PFLAG’s beginnings is a truly remarkable one, and it starts with a lady by the name of Jeanne Manford in 1972. That year, she had the joy of seeing her son beaten on her TV screen during the evening news while he was at a gay rights rally. This unimaginably horrifying event inspired her to write a letter to The New York Post declaring, “I have a homosexual son and I love him.” This might not seem like that crazy a thing to do today, but in 1972, it was revolutionary. She then marched with him in the New York City Pride Parade before it was officially called the Pride Parade, carrying a sign that read “Parents of Gays Unite in Support for Our Children.” She was soon contacted by other parents and community members who were intrigued by her message. Even during a time when it was extremely unpopular to do so, there were apparently lots of families and friends who did, indeed, want to unite in support of our children. PFLAG was born.

Manford is still alive today and has continued to fight for her son, Morty, and others like him, including the emotional moment when she marched in the New York City Pride Parade alone after Morty died from AIDS in the 1990s.

PFLAG helps educate school boards, teachers, and parents about how to make safe spaces for queer kids at school; they enlist straight allies and tell them what they can do to help; they reach out to diverse communities; they work with faith organizations; they advocate for all types of gay rights issues on a national level while still specializing in personal support for all individuals, queer or straight. They do everything I want a queer organization to do. If you need support, you can click here to find out all the ways they might be able to help.

Not all of us are lucky enough to have Jeanne Manford as a mom. But we can all be comforted by the fact that there are so many Jeanne Manfords out there, and that there are always people somewhere in the world who are just waiting to become your family.

As we near the end of Pride month and as we celebrate PFLAG’s work, we want to know: Who are the individuals in your life who have made a difference? Who has stood up for you and said, “I love you. I am proud of you.”? Who are the ones who have been your allies?

Because they deserve a piece of cake, too.