March is Women’s History Month. Gay children should know who paved the way for them when homosexuality wasn’t accepted in the 1970’s. One hero worth talking about was a school teacher named Jeanne Sobelson Manford (December 4-1920-January 8, 2013). A graduate of Queens College in 1964, Jeanne taught at PS 32 until 1990. However, it was her vision for education and support of parents outside the classroom that made this Flushing, New York activist famous.
Jeanne’s son Morty (1950-1992), came out at age 15 and witnessed the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969 in New York City. In 1972, Morty handed out leaflets, protesting a New York Daily News Editorial with the headline “Any Odd Jobs for Homos” at a The Hilton Hotel during an annual dinner for NYC politicians and political press. Morton was beaten by the President of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, Michael Maye, who was never charged.
“I love my son,” wrote Jeanne Manford to The New York Post, then a liberal newspaper. That same year, 1972, Jeanne walked alongside her son Morty in the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade. She held a sign urging other parents to support their gay children.
Popular with parents of gay children, she founded Parents of Gays in 1973 to offer support and education to families. This organization would later became Parents of Lesbians and Gays. Jeanne is credited with being the co-founder of PFLAG (Adele Starr established PFLAG in California in 1982).
Morty, an activist, a graduate of Columbia University and Cardozo Law School, became a Legal Aid lawyer and Assistant N.Y. State Attorney General, but his life was cut short by the complications of AIDS. Jeanne took care of him while he was ravaged by the disease.
She outlived him as other parents did during this era. In 1993, Jeanne Manford was the First Grand Marshall in a Gay Rights Parade in Queens in 1993. In 2012, she was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2012. She died a year later.
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.