Allyship and the History of PFLAG

LGBTQIA+ Allyship seems like a large concept, but it need only be a simple act of solidarity with those who identify as LGBTQIA+. Heterosexual and cisgender people can show allyship by using their privilege to challenge transphobia, biphobia, and homophobia. Similarly, members within the community can be allies for our trans brothers and sisters. Although the level of allyship within British society has visibly increased, this change did not happen over-night. Allyship, like any socially-progressive act, has increased in waves largely by the efforts of organisations such as Stonewall, PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), and FFLAG (Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). In this article, we focus on the influence of the American organisation PFLAG, and the impact it has had on furthering the position of the LGBTQIA+ community.

1972 – The Foundations:

In the April of 1972 Jeanne Manford, the mother of Morty Manford, a gay activist, wrote to the New York Post protesting the lack of police action over the assault of her son, who has been handing out flyers at a political gathering in New York. The following June, Manford marched with her son during New York's Christopher Street Liberation Day March. During the march, many children approached Manford asking if she would speak to their parents in the hopes of liberalising their parent's views. As a response, Manford set up a support group for parent's of LGBTQIA+ children, where they could discuss their concerns and be educated about the LGBTQIA+ community. The organisation was in its early days, gathering as many members as possible to attend weekly meetings. The first of these meetings was on March 11th, 1973, in Greenwich, Manhattan, with only 20 people in attendance.

1977 – Branching Out:

Having gained a wider group of meeting participants, PFLAG extended their work to California and Los Angeles and became the Federation of PFLAG Inc. In the late 70s and early 80s, the organisation began collaborating with other LGBT groups to stand in opposition with anti-LGBTQIA+ activist Anita Bryant. The activist was marching in support of the Briggs Initiative – a government-backed plan to ban Gays/Lesbians from working in California’s public schools. Fortunately, this initiative failed.

1982 – A Wider Influence:

In 1982, PFLAG was granted non-profit tax-exempt status. They then relocated to Denver where they worked to end the US Military’s attempts to discharge those that identified as lesbian.

1990 – The First Lady’s Approval:

After the President of PFLAG, Paulette Goodman, sent a letter to The White House asking for support, the organisation successfully gained the backing of the 41st First Lady of the United States, Barbara Bush. Her response stated, “I firmly believe that we cannot tolerate discrimination against any individuals or groups in our country. Such treatment always brings with it pain and perpetuates intolerance.” This was significant for the organisation, and the wider LGBTQIA+ community, as it was one of the first LGBTQIA+ positive comments to come from The White House. However, quite predictably, this caused a political whirlpool.

Barbara Bush later voiced her support of abortion access, AIDS awareness, and civil rights.

2007 – Straight for Equality:

In 2007, PFLAG successfully executed a project named 'Straight for Equality'. A name fitting for a project centred around the ideals of allyship. In essence, the project was an education outreach programme aimed at engaging those without a personal relation to the LGBTQIA+ community. This brought a new demographic into the organisation, as throughout the organisation's history, their work had been aimed at the parents and friends of LGBTQIA+ people. The programme taught participants a framework for being supportive allies. In 2009, they hosted their first yearly 'Straight for Equality' awards gala where activists such as Maya Angelou to Liza Minnelli won awards for their triumphs as civil rights innovators.

2013 to Present – The Making of Allyship:

Jeanne Manford was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Barack Obama. This signified the dedication she had shown in encouraging allyship across the nation.

Today, PFLAG advocates for the LGBTQIA+ community on local, state, and federal level. They continue their work in the fight for ending conversion therapy and aim to tackle anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation, such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which allows discrimination of LGBTQIA+ people under the right to religious freedom. Ultimately their pioneering work in teaching the world about how to be a productive ally has aided the fight against inequality.

Hannah Collier

Legal News writer

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