Parents feel better when they realize that they are not alone and that there are parents like them who are experiencing similar thoughts, feelings and reactions to having an LGBTQ child. That’s the premise of a nationwide organization called PFLAG ( Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians & Gays, and now Transgender and Questioning).
The seed of PFLAG was founded in 1972 when Jeanne Manford marched for equality alongside her gay activist son Morty during the Christopher Street Liberation Day. The next year, PFLAG was founded at a local church with just twenty attendees. On March 11, 2018, PFLAG celebrates its forty-fifth anniversary of helping straight parents and LGBTQ adults. Its membership has mushroomed to 200,000 + members, with 400 chapters. PFLAG was formerly incorporated in California in 1982 and is one of the largest grassroots chapter-based networks of volunteers.
If you need support, information and answers to raising an LGBTQ child, PFLAG is a good match. If you’re nervous about attending a meeting, these guidelines will help you know what to expect before you venture forth:
· Meetings are free, but if the meeting is in a church, for example, the President may pass a basket for a donation. Have a $5 dollar bill or singles with you. You don’t have to R.S.V.P. to attend a meeting.
· To accommodate working parents, meetings are at night, once a month.
· There are always snacks and beverages.
· You may bring a spouse, relative, neighbor or friend. Although LGBTQ adults are present, I don’t advise bringing your children to the same meeting as you may not feel like opening up in front of them, at least not at first.
· The PFLAG leader always reads the purpose of the group: “PFLAG promotes the health, well-being of LGBTQ persons, their families and friends through support, to cope with an adverse society; education, to enlighten an ill-informed public; and advocacy to end discrimination and to secure equal civil rights.”
· Attendees introduce themselves. The meetings are confidential. Whatever is said remains in the room. It is a diverse group of people: different professions, religions, income, and communities. What they do have in common is support for those struggling with issues accepting their child’s sexual orientation.
· The group may share announcements that PFLAG is organizing on a national level such as corporate and community outreach programs, “Stay Close” Campaign that features celebrity families speaking out for loving family relationships or local events such as PRIDE that is related to LGBTQ. To promote safety in schools, for example, PFLAG volunteers may work with teachers, principals, counselors and students to educate them about diversity and the equal rights of LGBTQ students.
· If there are pressing issues such as cyberbullying or questions about parenting, those present will often spend time listening and sharing any stories that they have to help those in need.
· The meetings have in common: listening, sharing, and socializing.
· You are not required to speak. When I first attended, I sat with my hands folded politely and just listened. By the third meeting, I was comfortable enough to speak.
· There are support materials for you to take home as well as a suggested reading list.
For more information, contact PFLAG in Washington, D.C. http://www.pflag.org.202-467-8180. Local chapters can be found on this site. If you don’t have a chapter near you, you can always connect by phone and online.
When Your Child Is Gay: What You Need To Know
For more detailed advice, see book, co-authored with a mother of a gay son and a psychiatrist, Jonathan L. Tobkes, M.D.