Mom and I just returned to Seattle after attending the PFLAG national convention this weekend in Portland, OR. On the Bolt bus down on Friday, Mom wrote about the important role that PFLAG played for her and my dad shortly after I came out, and I added my two cents about why I loved PFLAG when I came out and why I am a member of Bellevue-Eastside PFLAG today. Enjoy! ~Christopher
How did I find my way to PFLAG back in 1994? I was hurting that March. Confused. Worried. Guilty. I think I saw an ad in the alternative paper about PFLAG with a number to call for information.That was one of the better calls I made. A husky voiced woman answered. She said yes, I know how you are feeling. Yes, my husband and I went through this too. Come to a meeting. Just observe. You don’t have to say a thing.
So one Sunday soon after I found my way to Westminster Presbyterian on Delaware Avenue, a main line Protestant church. It felt foreign. Slightly wrong for a Catholic to be entering. WASPY too. In the library where the meeting was held I was greeted warmly. The card table at the entrance had coffee, tea, and store bought cookies. The room was lined with book shelves and worn leather bound tomes, musty with yellowed pages. The room was small and overheated with an ancient massive carved library table. I took my seat on a cold metal folding chair in the discussion circle. Would I speak?
Some parents, a few single women without husbands, a gay male couple, and two teens shared their stories. I found my voice too and shared my story. They were inclusive and supportive, and gave me handouts and a lending library of great books. By the next meeting I was back to giving advice, especially to the teens who did not have family support, and I haven’t stopped talking since!
The gay male couple really encouraged me. They had purchased a house in a middle class suburb. Had nice neighbors. Cooked at home most nights. They were like us! The fears I had of losing my son to a life I did not understand dissipated. Maybe he would have a life like them. Maybe he would find love and a committed partner too.
PFLAG was a great resource for many years. I became active, even served on the board. Got to meet lots of great people. Learned about many gay issues. Even a trans woman presented to us. She had recently transitioned at work. And so many years ago this was such a new experience. Though her immediate supervisor was supportive she encountered so much prejudice. I was thoroughly unaware of this issue. It helped me so much when I taught future teachers and they encountered trans students.
After a while I went on to other volunteer activities. Plus I was steeped in teaching at Buffalo State and working on my dissertation for the University of Buffalo. So I stopped going to meetings. But when Christopher and I began our blog and shared it on Facebook a teacher friend who was active in our local PFLAG asked me to present to their chapter.
Again I went to Protestant Church. This time it was not a mainline church but a UCC in a suburb. This time I did not worry if I would speak. I felt comfortable in my role as a LGBT ally.
And this time Bob came with me. He had attended meetings back when Christopher initially came out. But he did not speak to the group, nor did he want to do so. The big difference this time was that he not only felt comfortable speaking, he counseled several parents who seemed to have concerns regarding their gay children.
I think we were both surprised that even twenty five years later so many parents are grieving and are uncertain how to support their children even today. But PFLAG serves such parents and their children. When we attended a meeting of the Seattle-area chapter Christopher belongs to we discovered that PFLAG was a great support to parents of transitioning young people. It provides vital support and resources in a still, disturbingly unfriendly political environment.
The Pride parade in Seattle in the 1990s wound its way down Broadway to Volunteer Park through Capitol Hill, which was then the gay neighborhood in Seattle. There were dykes on bikes, the hyper-drag Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and quite a few shirtless men to check out.
The group that always received the loudest cheers from the crowd —so loud you could hear the wave of sound approaching—marched behind the PFLAG banner. With signs like “I Love my sons—gay and straight!” and “My two gay sisters rock!” they handed out stickers as they passed reading “I am loved by PFLAG.”
We wore those stickers with such pride, many in attendance knowing full well the shame and anger of not feeling love and acceptance from their own families, yet taking some solace in the fact that there were families and friends out there in the world that had enough to spread around.
My own pride swelled, knowing that Mom and Dad were PFLAG members back in Buffalo, regular attendees of meetings where they went for support, guidance, and later to share their own journey with others who found themselves needing an open heart and someone to listen.
A few years ago, I began attending meetings of the Bellevue-Eastside chapter of PFLAG, a group that serves, in part, the community where I teach. The first hour of each meeting is for support circles, and I easily recognize the new members, looking grim and determined and unsure.
I watch and marvel as board members and other regulars reach out with welcoming smiles and gentle questions. I am comforted listening to the energy, enthusiasm, and passion of family members and allies who are there to speak their truth—warts and all—about the fear and challenges they faced after learning something new about their child or sibling or nephew, and struggled to make sense of the new-yet-same person in their life. I am proud to be a part of this wonderful community, and love sharing my own story of the impact that questioning, supportive parents played in my life.
Thank goodness these new parents and family members are there. Thank goodness they ask questions and voice their pain and worry. Thank goodness many return again and again.
The second part of the meeting focuses on education and advocacy. Parents, community members and activists have presented about issues—both local and national—that remind us of how we can work together as a community for change. The meetings I have attended in the past year have been infused with a sense of urgency and recognition that the efforts of groups like PFLAG are critical to combating hate, intolerance, and discrimination that is as pervasive as ever in the United States and beyond.
Mom and I are thrilled to be attending the national PFLAG conference this year in Portland, OR. The theme of the conference is We Are the Change. So true, PFLAG. You always have been, and will continue to be, an agent for change, providing comfort and support and strengthening pride for our vast community.