Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians & Gays

By: James Schend
4.1.2009

Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG) National is one of the most effective voices in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and the premier organization for straight allies working together for LGBT equality. PFLAG is a powerful national organization and force in the fight for acceptance, equality, and justice.

PFLAG is located throughout the country - in all types of neighborhoods from dense, urban cities to their outlying suburbs and beyond. In many smaller rural communities, PFLAG is the only LGBT-related entity, creating a tremendous resource for support, education and advocacy for straight parents, family members, LGBT adults and questioning youth.

PFLAG supports LGBT people and their families and friends through local PFLAG chapter help lines and support group meetings and through locally and nationally produced resources. PFLAG educates families and provides public education on sexual orientation, gender identity and LGBT issues. PFLAG chapters educate their communities through a variety of local projects and nationally, PFLAG continues to provide fair and accurate information about LGBT people and their loved ones in private meetings, public settings and through responding to frequent media inquiries. PFLAG also advocates for equal rights for the LGBT community.

OUR HISTORY

Jeanne Manford, mother of a gay son, started an international movement in 1972 when she wrote an editorial in the New York Post calling for change when her son was beaten at a gay rights rally while the police looked on and did nothing. She later marched in the Christopher Street parade holding a sign calling for parents to support their gay children. The response was overwhelming. She held the first meeting of concerned parents in March 1973 at a local church with approximately 20 people attending.

From this one woman's love and activism has grown a national organization of more than 500 chapters with 200,000 members, allies and supporters. PFLAG represents the largest grassroots, membership and chapter-based network of volunteers in the struggle for LGBT equality. PFLAG National, with offices in Washington D.C., mobilizes members through trainings, technical assistance, community organizing and support services, and serves as the national voice for this huge chapter network.

OUR MISSION STATEMENT

PFLAG promotes the health and well-being of the LGBT community, 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.

PFLAG provides opportunity for dialogue about sexual orientation and gender identity, and acts to create a society that is healthy and respectful of human diversity.

OUR NATIONAL PROGRAMS

From Our House to the State House has its major goals:

    * Strengthen chapters in order to enhance their delivery of support, education and advocacy initiatives by fostering greater networking among chapters and allies in the same states and building state leadership teams to coordinate activities.
    * Create stronger and more unified statewide PFLAG family voices to address the multitude of issues we face including making schools safer, engaging diverse racial and ethnic communities, helping faith communities to be more welcoming, dealing with policy matters including parenting rights, marriage equality, employment discrimination, and hate crimes, among others.

The role of PFLAG National is to provide strong field staff and logistical support to help build these leadership teams. As such, national staff will train leaders and other allies, develop materials (including Web-based resources), and coordinate and produce educational workshops, meetings and state conferences, among others.

Once the volunteer leadership is trained, they, in turn, can begin training other leaders. Remarkably, even with this larger and stronger network, the overall budget for PFLAG will not be significantly impacted as most of our work continues to be provided by volunteers.

Building PFLAG capacity at the state level is critical to making real progress.

Our House to the School House: Making schools in our nation safe for all youth, but particularly for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) young people, has long been among PFLAG's top priorities. In 2000, PFLAG launched its multi-year From Our House to the Schoolhouse Safe Schools Campaign because we recognized that schools are "ground zero" in our efforts to curb homophobia. LGBT youth, or those perceived to be, face unspeakable harassment and abuse in schools, and are too often effectively denied access to a safe and equal education opportunity. The school culture that fosters and sustains this hostile environment impacts all students negatively. The average high school student hears 25 anti-gay slurs daily; 97 percent of high school students regularly hear homophobic remarks. This harassment takes its toll: Gay students are far more likely to skip classes, drop out of school and/or commit suicide.

PFLAG makes schools safer in ways nobody else can and systematic change is occurring. As families, our voices carry tremendous weight in schools. And because PFLAG is in over 500 communities in the nation, our work is localized, reaching even some of the smallest schools in rural America. Numerous PFLAG chapters also host youth groups or partner with other community organizations that do. Activities range from hosting rap groups, helping to coordinate special social events or community projects to partnering with safe schools activities.

LGBT Scholarship Program: This national program, for graduating high school seniors, is open to both LGBT students and heterosexual students who can demonstrate support for, or involvement with, the LGBT community. In 2007, PFLAG National will provide 30 scholarships totaling $42,000.

Chapter Leadership and Development: An ongoing priority for PFLAG is to support our grassroots network of approximately 500 affiliates. PFLAG provides training and assistance to chapters so they are better able to assist families. Each year, families courageously step forward to form new chapters, most often in rural communities where no other LGBT resources exist. The need for PFLAG is particularly critical in the South, Midwest and Rocky Mountain states. PFLAG supports chapters in their efforts to implement the three key aspects of PFLAG's mission statement: support, education and advocacy. Chapter growth is critical in order to reach the underserved areas and to involve more parents, family and friends.

Family Support: One of PFLAG's primary objectives is to help keep families in loving and supportive relationships. This work occurs at the chapter level, and PFLAG's national office is instrumental in providing the training and resources for local chapters to reach out and support those families in crisis as well as those who wish to become effective advocates. PFLAG support groups provide a safe space for LGBT people to share their feelings and experiences, to explore their identity, and to seek the acceptance and unconditional love that our members have to offer, even if their own families reject them. Strong families are critical to strong communities. By providing a safe haven for families, PFLAG works to maintain the cohesive bonds of the family structure by providing parents the knowledge, skills, and understanding to keep their families together.

Families of Color Network: In late 1999, PFLAG worked with activists to form the Families of Color Network, which works with people of color to address LGBT issues in the context of their African-American, Arab-American, Asian/Pacific Islander-American, Latino/a and Native American/American Indian communities. Across the country, PFLAG chapters are also working to meet the needs of communities of color.

Nationally, PFLAG provided six seed grants to chapters to expand outreach to diverse families. In addition, PFLAG has released a booklet in Spanish and we have translated our most visited portion of the PFLAG Web site, the Support section, into Spanish. Also now in Spanish are the Safe Schools materials, Be Yourself, and our membership brochure.

Welcoming Faith Communities: In recognition of the important intersection of faith and homosexuality, the PFLAG National staff is developing a training curriculum dealing with faith issues. This initiative will support chapters by providing the tools necessary to educate organizations on faith based issues mobilize volunteers and respond to arguments of the religious right and other opposition groups.

Our Newest Project

Straight for Equality is an outreach and education project that empowers straight people in supporting and advocating for LGBT people. Straight for Equality reaches out to straight allies who may not have realized how their own contribution can make a significant difference. It also seeks allies who understand the importance of this goal but may be hesitant to get involved. This project, based on experience, research and field testing, will provide individuals with the tools, knowledge, skills and opportunities to be an ally.

For more information on our work, please visit our Web site, www.PFLAG.org.

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