PFLAG co-founder Jeanne Manford dies at 92
BY Wire reports
Friday, January 11, 2013
1/11/13 at 5:02 AM
Her message was as simple as it was powerful - a quiet, courageous statement of unconditional love.
Walking alongside her son in an early New York City gay pride parade in 1972, elementary school teacher Jeanne Manford carried a sign she had written herself: "Parents of Gays: Unite in Support for Our Children."
When spectators began to cheer, Manford figured the applause was for Dr. Benjamin Spock, the renowned baby doctor who was marching in the parade just behind her and her son, Morty. It was only when young marchers and spectators began to approach Manford, thanking her with hugs and tears for her presence, that she knew the cheers were for her and her public support of her gay son, and by extension, all gay children.
"The young people were hugging me, kissing me, screaming, asking if I would talk to their parents," she recalled in a 1996 interview with Newsday. "Very few of them were out to their parents for fear of rejection."
Manford was so moved by the experience that the following year, she and her husband, Jules, founded a local support group for parents of gays and lesbians, which grew into the international organization known as Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG. It now has 350 chapters and more than 200,000 members and supporters in the United States.
Jeanne Manford died Tuesday in Daly City, Calif. She was 92.
President Barack Obama, in a 2009 speech to the Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights group, said Manford's work was the "story of America, of ordinary citizens organizing, agitating and advocating for change, of hope stronger than hate, of love more powerful than any insult or injury."
Manford's path to advocacy began in April 1972 when her son and other gay advocates were kicked and beaten after they handed out fliers at an annual dinner for politicians and reporters in New York City. Incensed that police were nearby but did not intervene, Manford called newspapers to report the injustice.
The first meeting of Parents of Gays was held in March 1973 in a church in Manhattan. The Manfords hoped it would give parents a place to ask questions, seek information and talk about their concerns and, through them, support their gay and lesbian children.
Initial meetings attracted only a few participants, but by the early 1980s, the group had changed its name to PFLAG and was a national grass-roots organization with chapters across the country.