Jeanne Manford, the unassuming Founder of PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), died earlier this week. She was 92. Jeanne personified Courage, Grace, Beauty, Compassion, and Unconditional Love. This world is a better place for her having been here. She will be missed. Thank you Jeanne, for all you’ve done for so many!
The idea for PFLAG began in 1972 when Jeanne Manford marched with her son, Morty, in New York’s Christopher Street Liberation Day March, the precursor to today’s Pride parade. After many gay and lesbian people ran up to Jeanne during the parade and begged her to talk to their parents, she decided to begin a support group.
In the next years, through word of mouth and community need, similar groups sprang up around the country, offering “safe havens” and mutual support for parents with gay and lesbian children. Following the 1979 National March for Gay and Lesbian Rights, representatives from these groups met for the first time in Washington, DC.
Some snapshots of PFLAG:
In the 1980s, PFLAG became involved in opposing Anita Bryant’s anti-gay crusade and worked to end the U.S. military’s efforts to discharge lesbians—more than a decade before military issues came to the forefront of the GLBT movement.
In 1990, PFLAG President Paulette Goodman sent a letter to Barbara Bush asking for Mrs. Bush’s support. The first lady’s personal reply stated, “I firmly believe that we cannot tolerate discrimination against any individuals or groups in our country. Such treatment always brings with it pain and perpetuates intolerance.” Inadvertently given to the Associated Press, her comments caused a political maelstrom and were perhaps the first gay-positive comments to come from the White House.
In 1993, PFLAG added the word “Families” to the name, and added bisexual people to its mission and work. By the mid-1990s a PFLAG family was responsible for the Department of Education’s ruling that Title 9 also protected gay and lesbian students from harassment based on sexual orientation.
PFLAG put the Religious Right on the defensive, when Pat Robertson threatened to sue any station that carried the Project Open Mind advertisements. The resulting media coverage drew national attention to PFLAG’s message linking hate speech with hate crimes and LGBT teen suicide.
In 1998, PFLAG added transgender people to its mission.
And finally, a statement by Jeanne (found at the PFLAG site):
“Of course, I knew Morty was gay,” Manford explained. “He didn’t want to tell me. I told him that I loved him, and nothing else mattered. At first, there was a little tension there. He didn’t believe I was that accepting. But I was.”
In 1972, Morty was punched, kicked and thrown down an escalator during a gay rights protest at the New York City Hilton Hotel. Manford and her husband watched the attacks on the evening TV news, outraged that police officers appeared to ignore the assault.
Manford’s next steps erased any doubt her son may have had about her loyalty and acceptance.
She tried to call The New York Times to expose the injustice, but says she was hung up on.
Next, she wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Post. The letter was published. One sentence jumped out: “My son is a homosexual, and I love him.”
The next day, she received a phone call from Morty.
“You can’t believe it [the response],” he told her. “No mother has ever announced to the world her son is gay.”