PFLAG founder remembered as pioneering LGBT ally
The founder of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), Jeanne Manford, has been remembered in the US and across the world as a pioneering ally of the LGBT community following her death this week at her Californian home, aged 92.
Born in 1920 in the New York suburb of Queens, Manford, a schoolteacher, would come to play a leading role in the fight for gay rights after writing a letter to the editor of The New York Times in 1972 to protest against the bashing of her son during a Gay Activists Alliance demonstration.
“I have a homosexual son and I love him,” she wrote at the time.
Soon after, Manford joined her son Morty in the 1972 Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade (the predecessor to New York City’s annual Pride Parade) with a sign reading “Parents of Gays: Unite in Support Of Our Children”.
After being contacted by other families, the following year Manford held the first ever PFLAG meeting inside New York's Metropolitan Community Church. About 20 people attended.
Jody Huckaby, PFLAG National executive director, said the world had lost a pioneer with the organisation now consisting of 350 chapters and 200,000 members across the US as well as groups in 10 other countries around the world, including Australia.
“All of us – people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and straight allies alike – owe Jeanne our gratitude. We are all beneficiaries of her courage. Jeanne Manford proved the power of a single person to transform the world,” Huckaby said.
“She paved the way for us to speak out for what is right, uniting the unique parent, family, and ally voice with the voice of LGBT people everywhere.”
Shelley Argent, national spokesperson for PFLAG Australia, told SX that Manford was an inspiration to many for her courage and energy to stand up and be heard in support of loved ones who are sexually diverse.
“As national spokesperson for PFLAG, people often tell me that I am brave with the work that I do, but realistically it pales into insignificance to what this brave woman achieved by standing up to support her son,” she said.
“It was a very different time, to be gay or lesbian wasn’t legal, it was considered a mental illness and her support would have given the LGBT community especially in the US at that time, hope for the future.
“If there had been no Jeanne Manford the world would not be so bright for many.”
In 2009, US President Barack Obama also paid tribute to Manford’s activism during a speech at a Human Rights Campaign dinner where he discussed the success of PFLAG.
“That’s the story of America, of ordinary citizens organizing, agitating and advocating for change,” Obama said.
“Of hope stronger than hate, of love more powerful than any insult or injury.”