PFLAG By Bill Burleson
Every year at the Pride Parade, the marching contingent that gets the most cheers, applause, and sometimes even tears is PFLAG: Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians. For many of us, with all we’ve had to put up with growing up it is so meaningful to see our fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, march right along with us. The haters out there may question us, but it’s hard to question the motives of someone’s mom. From the name of the group one might think that the mission of the group is clear: parents and friends getting together for support and to educate themselves about what it means to have a GLBT family member. True, but there’s more. For GLBT folks who are looking for community, it’s a safe place for them too. “I don’t know if I’d say 25% of the attendees are GLBT,” says Deb LeMay, Administrator for the Minneapolis and St Paul PFLAG group. “I don’t think a lot of people know that it’s not only for parents, but also for GLBT people themselves. Kind of like a GSA,” And that’s a great comparison. For those who aren’t familiar with Gay Straight Alliances, or GSAs, they are clubs available in many schools. The beauty is, if a teen who may be in the closet, who may be reaching out for the first time, is seen going into the GSA meeting, why, they’re an ally, right? The “SA” part offers a bit more safety than if it were only “G.” At PFLAG, a GLBT person who is starting to reach out to see if there are any safe places for them, can come to a meeting, and, guess what: seen by your boss? No problem; you’re a parent or friend!
Take Tom. He’s in the process of coming out. “Yesterday I went to Margaret Cho,” who was in town as part of the Alphabet Soup BTLG conference at the University of Minnesota, “and who did I run into? My niece. Oops!” So far he’s come to “two or three” PFLAG meetings, looking to “find out more about the organization.” Most importantly for him, he says he’s looking for “a little more community.” Community, as always, is key. And regardless of how long a person has or has not been out for, this meeting is simply a wonderful, supportive place to be. Are there are ever enough opportunities in this world for community and support? Today’s meeting at the Mayflower Church in Minneapolis is better attended than most, I’m told. I count 40 people sitting around tables in the meeting room of the church (PFLAG is not part of the church, they rent the space). The meetings usually start with a reading of the mission of PFLAG, and the person who recites it says that she had a son come out at 15, starting her on this journey. That’s followed by group business: upcoming events, future topics, that sort of thing. After that the bulk of the time is taken up with an educational presentation of some kind. On this day there is an excellent panel discussion about GLBT theater, featuring a performance by a youth group that reminds me of why we do all this activism. After the program, the regular PFLAG meeting is followed by a selection of support groups and organizational meetings; breakouts, of you will. “We get a lot of support at the Capitol,” Kathy says, as we hang around after the meeting. Kathy is a trans woman, retired, with 2 children and two grandchildren. She knows family strife. “I have a sister who totally doesn’t get it. We talk on the phone now, but haven’t seen each other in years.”
As a bi guy, one issue I have to ask about is: is the group supportive of me and my trans allies? After all, the group has “Gays and Lesbians” right in its name, and I know that nationally there have been issues around this. I also know that having gay and/or lesbian in the name of a group doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t supportive of their bi and trans friends, and, conversely, some groups calling themselves GLBT are GLBT in name only. So is it supportive for “B’s and “T”s? According to Kathy, “Absolutely.” She says that PFLAG “includes all kinds of GLBT people.” And that’s the beauty of it: PFLAG is for everyone. According to Kathy, “People get PFLAG, it’s us. It’s all of us.”
There are 11 PFLAG chapters around Minnesota. In Minneapolis, the group meets on the third Sunday of the Month from 2:00-5:00pm at the Mayflower Church, 106 E Diamond Lake Road, Minneapolis. Visit www.pflagtc.org for more information.