The History of PFLAG

In 1972, the policemen who had assembled to stand by at a gay rights protest in New York City watched passively as Morty Manford, a young gay man was physically attacked. This was the event that set many others, and eventually the PFLAG that exists today, into motion. At this time, it was unheard of for a parent to publicly support his or her gay child. "Parents were ashamed of their gay children," says Betty Goldwarg, former director of PFLAG Montreal. Jeanne Manford faced the judgmental nature of the times when she wrote a letter about her gay son to the New York Post in April 1972 and when she stepped out with her son in the 1972 Pride Day parade in New York City proudly holding a sign bearing the words "Parents of Gays Unite in Support of Our Children." Jeanne Manford was even put into the Calendar of Revolutionary Women for her march. It was on that day she decided, because of the number of people who came up to her at the parade and asked her if she would speak to their parents, to start Parents of Gays, or POG (which later evolved to PFLAG), an organization whose aim would be to help parents of gays and lesbians to accept and love their children.

The first meeting of PFLAG was held in March of 1973, in a Methodist Church in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. Just under 20 people attended, but the relatively small number did not matter; relating to other parents who were going through the same thing was all that mattered. " It was uncomfortable, we sat in a circle and introduced ourselves. There was crying, and people were very distraught. It was a nervous time," says Elaine Benov, who started attending these meetings shortly after they began.

The success of these meetings spread--and soon, Parents of Gays had grown beyond New York. In 1976, Adele Starr hosted the first meeting of a chapter in Los Angeles. This would be the first parents group ever to apply for non-profit, tax exempt status . The organization kept spreading; besides the meetings, they fielded many phone calls from parents in need of support . By 1980, there were more than 100 groups all over the United States.

The first national convention was held in 1979 at the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. This w as the first of the national conventions that now take place every year in a different location. By that time, the group was calling itself Parents & Friends of Gays, or PFLAG.   Adele Starr , along with Richard Ashworth, who had been attending the meetings since 1973 in New York, gave speeches from the podium at the Washington Monument at the march representing PFLAG. The first national meeting was held on Saturday, October 13 , at the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C. Twenty-five parents attended, and they discussed where the now-national PFLAG was going and their goals.

In 1981, over 30 people gathered at the home of Adele Starr and wrote the bylaws for the organization, officially called Federation of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or Parents FLAG.  PFLAG was now very much in the public eye and helping many people through their meetings, their hotlines, and by members speaking at schools and religious venues about having a gay child. After PFLAG was mentioned in the popular "Dear Abby" column, "the post office called us and told us we had to come there and pick up trays of mail. They were a little annoyed with us," Adele Starr said. They answered all of it.

During this time, PFLAG did a lot of work on gay rights issues that its members had previously been advocating for alone. They actively fought the discharges of lesbians and gays from the military, sending countless letters to every military staff member in the U.S. They strongly opposed Anita Bryant, a singer who was outwardly anti-gay, and who helped sway the country to repeal the anti-discrimination act of 1977. PFLAG members continued to attend and organize gay pride marches, protests, and conventions.

Dear Abby is one of the most well-known advice columns out there. In a 1984 edition of the column, Pauline Philips, more commonly known as Abigail Van Buren, suggested PFLAG to a parent struggling with a child who had just come out as being homosexual. As a result of the mention of PFLAG in her column, the organization received over seven thousand letters asking for help and more information. The current writer of Dear Abby is Pauline Philips' daughter, Jeanne Philips. The younger Philips has said outright that she supports gay marriage and urges those to write to her with doubts about a gay son or daughter to simply accept them for who they are. Philips received the first Straight for Equality award.

In 1987, with Ellinor Lewallen residing as president, the national PFLAG office relocated to Denver, Colorado. The next year the group moved its headquarters permanently to Washington D.C. and employed Paulette Goodman as its new president. In the same year, the first National Coming Out day was celebrated on October 11. Inspired by the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay rights, Dr. Robert Eichberg and Jean O'Leary founded this day, which is now celebrated annually in the United States, Switzerland, Germany, and Canada and is acknowledged on October 12 in the United Kingdom. In April of 1995, Candace Gingrich became the spokesperson for National Coming Out Day.

In the early 1990's, the first Safe Schools legislation was passed with aid from the Massachusetts PFLAG chapters. Bisexuals were added to the PFLAG mission in 1993.

In the mid-1990s, Pat Robertson threatened to sue any media station that carried PFLAG’s Project Open Mind advertisements against his anti-gay statements. This media coverage drew national attention to PFLAG’s message of how hate speeches and hate crimes are often the trigger of GLBT teen suicide. In 1995, the Atlanta chapter creates a new scholarship program for self- identified lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students who live in Georgia. Within the first ten years of this program, PFLAG has given over 79 scholarships ranging from $500 to $3000, all raised by donations. The PFLAG board decides how many scholarships are awarded each year, and it usually ranges from three to twelve. In 1998, PFLAG officially added transgendered people into their mission.

The newest programs still in progress include Families United Against Hate, From Our House to the School House, and the most recent, From Our House to the State House. Families United Against Hate (FUAH) is a new program started by two PFLAG members whose sons have been the victim of hate crimes. One of the victims committed suicide as a result.  The FUAH will provide support, guidance and assistance to families and individuals dealing with incidents involving hate crimes. From Our House to the School House is a new program hoping to make school environments safe and comfortable for GLBT students (see Safe Schools in the Programs tab). The newest program From Our House to the State House, under the direction Ron Schlittler, hopes to change laws about prejudice against homosexuality.

PFLAG has had an amazing journey from its small start in 1973 to the international organization that it is today. What was a small group of parents is now a huge mass of parents, family members, friends, and gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people as well. PFLAG, over the years, has helped and changed so many people. It has strengthened bonds, deepened relationships, and reconciled families. Elaine Benov, a PFLAG member since 1973, said about her gay son, "Jonny was always special, always a kind, considerate person and a loving son. Being gay did not change that." PFLAG is all about this idea. It is not about making people see their gay children, friends, or relatives differently; it is about making them see them as the same person that they loved before they knew that they were gay. PFLAG has changed the lives of so many; and it is still an agent of change, equality, and love today.