The French in the American Revolutionary War. Abolitionists in the fight against slavery. Urban consumers boycotting grapes to support farmworkers. Ruth Brinker, a straight woman, founding Project Open Hand in San Francisco early in the AIDS years.
Allies. They’re critical in just about every social movement I can think of, especially social movements that aim at justice for a group that’s unpopular or wields little political power.
The LGBT movement lost a giant ally earlier this week when Jeanne Manford, the founder of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, died at age 92. She started by standing up – 40 years ago – for her gay son, marching in the New York Pride Parade with a sign reading simply “Parents of Gays Unite in Support of Our Children.”
What she started spread across the country, creating havens for tens of thousands of parents, a place to go for support and understanding, to ask questions, to have a community of their own. But PFLAG became far more than a support group – it rapidly became an impassioned and hard-to-ignore voice for our rights and dignity.
PFLAG also became something else: a unique and powerful affirmation for LGBT people ourselves. Anyone who’s ever been to a Pride parade knows that it’s easy to tell when the PFLAG contingent is coming. The cheers can be deafening. Especially because so many of us have suffered rejection by family, the sight of parents who stand proud with their children is almost inexpressibly moving.
As what Jeanne Manford started grew, others stepped up to leadership. Here in the Bay Area, parents like Tom and Mitzi Henderson, and Sam and Julia Thoron, emerged as both national and local leaders in the movement. Although I didn’t know Jeanne Manford personally, I imagine she was much like Tom, Mitzi, Sam, and Julia: visionary, generous, indefatigable, unwavering.
In the end, what PFLAG has done – for decades – has been to bear witness to the truth that the LGBT movement is, fundamentally, about not only equality and justice, but also about love and family. And its leaders and members have put themselves, again and again, on the line to make sure that message is heard, all across the land.