Pride Partner: PFLAG

Jack Peirson visited a recent membership meeting for HR Pride and told the story of PFLAG and his personal journey that lead him to the group that has changed him forever.


Jeanne_Manford_marching_with_her_famous_sign_in_a_Pride_Parade_in_1972The 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. The first formal meeting took place on March 26, 1973 at the Metropolitan Duane Methodist Church in Greenwich Village (now the Church of the Village). Approximately 20 people attended. It was a mom, defending and supporting her son, and declaring her unconditional love. PFLAG is still performing that mission today. The organization provides peer to peer support to the Parents, Friends, Families of Lesbians, Gays, Allies, Trans, Bi, Questioning or Curious. If you have questions or a story that you want to tell, we at PFLAG Norfolk/South Hampton Roads will help you.

I know a lot of you personally and some of you I have known for a long time. I would not be here this evening speaking to you if it were not for the assistance of my friends and LGBT community. When I came out in ‘91’ there were so many things going badly in my life. A messy divorce, I lost my job, I lost my house, I lost my family, I lost my church, and mostly, I lost my identity.

Things were not all bad. I found things in ’91 – 92’ as well. I found friends that I could count on. I found a community that was stronger than the forces that were confronting me. I found my husband of 22 years, John Mueller. I found that I was a person that was stronger because all that I had gone through. I found I still had compassion and wanted to be the one to reach back and assist the person going through their hard times. The struggle that I went through.

That struggle is still happening today across Hampton Roads, and all across the United States. The PEW research shows that LGBT youth make up roughly 5% of the overall youth population, 5 out of 100 young people are LGBT. But, they are 41% of the homeless youth population. Out of 100 homeless people under the age of 18, 41 are LGBT. That statistic is staggering. These young people are going through one of the most difficult realizations and also facing the worst circumstances. And many times they are doing it alone, with no safety net.

As I have said, our mission at PFLAG is to provide peer to peer counseling, to educate and support. It is to equip our members with the tool kits to meet the challenges that they are facing. It is to not just help them survive, more importantly it is to help them to THRIVE. Before someone can be a real part of pride, they have to FEEL that they are a part of PRIDE. PFLAG helps to build the bridge that goes from finding out who they are – to who they are destined to become.

So, why PFLAG? We have marriage equality, we are getting our rights? It is simple. Carolyn Caywood, local PFLAG President and all-knowing oracle, said this in a meeting the other day. “You can go from the courthouse on Friday getting married, to the person whom you love, to the unemployment line on Monday because your boss does not support your right to get married.” The members of our group are asking these questions and so many more. They have concerns that they need a safe place to meet and talk things out. PFLAG is cultivating the members of Pride for tomorrow. We are changing the conversation one family, one person at a time. We are changing the conversation from, “Why me? Why my child?” to a conversation of “Why Not, You? Why Not, Your Child?” Why can’t you be the next Harvey Milk, Rita Mae Brown, Christine Jorgensen, Jeanne Manford. “Why can’t your child be the next Laurel Quarberg or John Osterhout? Once a person is comfortable in their own skin and can live a life that is open, honest and out, they can live a life with Pride and then the possibilities become limitless.

We meet on the Third Tuesday of every month at the LGBT Center off 24th and Llewellyn in Norfolk. The meetings start at 6:30 and end at 8:30. Find us on Facebook PFLAG Norfolk South Hampton Roads, like us and follow what we are doing to move equality forward, come to a meeting and get involved, there is a lot to be accomplished in 2015.

We are so happy to be a Partner in Pride. I leave you with this. You may not need PFLAG – you may be perfectly happy with who you are, but PFLAG needs you and someone needs to see you as their role model.

You can find more details about PFLAG online at Facebook or Instagram.