The Rebranding of PFLAG (and how it affects us)

Last week, not only did PFLAG National swear in a new Board President (the dedicated Jean Hodges— welcome!!) but an announcement has also been made regarding the “change” to PFLAG’s official name. When the organization was founded by Jeanne Manford in 1972, its name was created as an acronym for “Parents and Friends of Lesbians And Gays”. A trans-inclusive stance was officially adopted in 1998, and the name will now reflect that. For the sake of historical importance and identity, we will still be called PFLAG, there will no longer be a definition attached that excludes a particular group of the LGBTQ community.

Read the full article by The Blade here.

Welcome to the NEW PFLAG!

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Straight Until Proven Gay

(Disclaimer: Permission has been obtained to publish this article from all parties involved. All contents herein remain under the ownership of the original writer.)

 Straight Until Proven Gay

by Jamie Sebby

When I was thirteen or so, I tried to tell something to my mom. We were driving home, and I remember the pit in my stomach as I realized that there would never really be a perfect time to say what I wanted to say. I can still see the trees lining the Garden State Parkway, blurring as we drove past. There was no way out.

In the most high school of phrases, I started, “Mom, I think I like two people, at the same time.” She nodded her head, the wheels in her head turning in a predictable direction: how to tell her daughter it’s understandable to have a crush on more than one boy at this age. “Oh yeah? Who?”

I swallowed the lump in my throat. Just rip off the Band Aid.

“Evan,” I said. “And Heather.”

It took her a millisecond to process. She had always known I was different. I think she had held on to the hope that it was something else, anything but this.

“No,” she countered, “You’re not gay. Honey, I don’t have a problem with gay people, but not you.”

It was then that I began to take issue with statements like that. Statements that were so contradictory, they were hurtful. What would be the problem with me being gay if she legitimately “had no problem with gay people”?

The specific situation is moot at this point. I dropped it, and when I kissed Heather and Kat and Julie throughout my years of high school, I did it without telling her. Through college, I identified as bisexual. However, I dated men exclusively. (Two, specifically—one of whom is now my husband, so the issue of my sexuality is not important. I’m Mattsexual.) Even though I had a boyfriend, I joined BGLAD (Bisexuals, Gays, Lesbians and Allies for Diversity) at Boise State, proclaiming my membership of the “B” initial of the acronym.

"I'm A Straight Ally Because... I want my children to be able to live in a society that is truly equal."

“I’m A Straight Ally Because… I want my children to be able to live in a society that is truly equal.”

I know now that the “A” initial was equally, if not more relevant to me. I thought my involvement in LGBT activism was made more understandable, more potent by the fact that I was “one of them”. But just saying I’m part of a community, does not truly make me a part of it. Now, as an ally I see what I can truly accomplish when I apply myself to this cause. Not as one of the victims, but as an advocate for those who were born a specific way. I was born a cisgender, heterosexual (basically, despite a few stolen kisses in high school), white woman. It is my duty to use my place of cultural privilege to help those who are without.

People have to swallow a terrible fear of backlash in order to be true themselves and their loved ones. There are so many reasons to embrace the movement for equality. Listing them all would take hours. For my part, I want my children to grow up in the generation where people are not “straight until proven gay”. I want my children, and all people, to be able to embrace who they are with ease and joy, rather than the pain and adversity of today’s society.

Jamie and daughter, Auri at a PFLAG children's event

Jamie and daughter, Auri at a PFLAG children’s event

A lot of good points have been made for the difficulties of “coming out” as a straight ally to the LGBT community. As for my part with my family, they know what I do; they know what causes I proudly and loudly stand up to support. At this point, it’s surprising to them if I don’t have something to say about a particular issue. Their views landing somewhere between conservative and ambivalent, I am the black sheep. Every family needs one, and I belong to them.

 

Mother’s Perspectives: Part Two

Once again, thank you to the speakers who, on Tuesday, decided to share with us their experiences. From what I could tell based on the conversation that followed, there was a great deal of takeaway from these two families’ stories.

Part Two: Verna and Josh

“I taught Josh when we was younger, and he’s teaching me now.”

Josh is twenty years old, and he came out to his mother, Verna, two years ago. Verna, having been brought up in the same generation as Susan, faced the same situation in a very different time.

She said she had an idea about Josh’s sexuality when he was as young as three. “If any one of my four boys is gay, it’s Joshua,” she retells this thought jokingly.

But she opened her story, not with the distress of Josh’s coming out to her, but with the unconditional love she felt then and still feels now for him and all of her children. She strives to teach them to be strong, knowing they (especially her second son) will face adversity. She taught them to take others’ opinions with a grain of salt. It is within your own self and the people that love you that you should find comfort.

One day, Josh called his mom, and she could tell he was nervous. She could tell he had something big to tell her, and it was tough for him.

“Mom, I’m gay.”

“And…? I know Josh; I’ve always known.”

And the simplicity of realizing that maybe his identity was not as secretive as he had thought has forged an even stronger bond between mother and son. She never pushed him; she never even asked him. It was his story to tell. When asked a direct question, Verna’s advice, based upon her own experience was: wait for them to tell you. Even if you have an idea and you want to test the waters, be vague, generic and open-ended. Don’t make them feel pressured to tell something they’re not ready to tell yet. They’ve got to come to terms with it themselves before they can trust others.

For a time, after that confirming conversation, Verna felt legitimate fear for her child. As a Catholic, she honestly believed that, as a gay man, Josh could not go to heaven. Reconciling her feelings for her son and the knowledge that this is something with which he was born, with the belief system of the Catholic church has been a struggle. From the beginning, Verna told Josh to never “lose his faith in God.”

Josh is adamant that he owes all his success to the encouragement from his mother. As of next weekend, Joshua will be a college graduate, having served on the North Idaho College student senate body (ASNIC), as President for the Gender and Sexuality Alliance and as Treasurer for the NIC Signers’ Club.

Verna said of Josh’s accomplishments, “I couldn’t be more proud– not because he’s gay, but because he’s my son.”

josh and verna

Josh and his mom, Verna

josh swan 2

This award was presented to the North Idaho College Footsteps Committee by the Task Force On Human Relations for their work in diversity and human rights.

josh swan

Josh (center) and his siblings

Mothers’ Perspectives: Part One

First off, a heartfelt thank you to Bev Moss, her daughter, Susan and Verna Swan and her son, Josh. It was courageous to stand up the way you did last night and bare your honest experiences with the group. It was wonderful to see how perspectives the same exact situation could differ, even to the point of reminding one another what had happened.

Part one is for Bev and Susan Moss:

“Isn’t it wonderful when one person loves another?”

In the case of Susan Moss, her coming out story began at age 16, nearly 25 years ago. Obviously, the societal climate toward the LGBT community was much different. (If you think we’ve got work to do now, just imagine how far we’ve come.) Susan noticed something different about herself as she entered her teenage years, but didn’t have a definitive answer until her first relationship with another girl at 16.

She didn’t want to tell anyone. It is important to note that Susan and Bev never really talked about it.They began the reminiscence by disclaiming that neither one really new what the other was going to say. “Let’s see how this goes,” they said. Bev, Susan’s mother, chimed in to take over a little of the story then. She told us that she had confronted Susan. “Are you gay?” After giving the confirmation, Susan felt like a ‘failure at coming out.’ She felt as though the control she had over her own story had been taken from her, and she ran from the situation, eventually leaving North Idaho altogether for a period.

In the year 1988, Bev cried over the news that her daughter was gay. Not necessarily the fact, but the struggles of disclosing the information to other family members, the unhealthy high school relationship Susan was in and the widespread misinformation of HIV and AIDS during that time. Even though, she’d had suspicions, the confirmation meant she couldn’t hide with her “head in the sand” anymore; she had to wage this uphill battle alongside her daughter.

Advice given to Susan’s parents is universal and so important for all to hear:

Ask your child for three years to fully adjust. It’s likely that it took that long or longer for your child to come to terms with this part of themselves. Do as much research as you can. Get the facts because having knowledge is the best way to assuage fear. Remind yourself that this person is the same person you called your child yesterday; you’ve just learned some new information about them.

This wise, before-his-time man was also quoted as saying “Isn’t it wonderful when one person loves another?”

Bev has long since fully accepted this piece of Susan’s identity, spending years manning the hotline for concerned parents of LGBT persons and providing a safe, accepting place in her home for Susan’s peers. And Susan has returned to Coeur d’Alene and is working tirelessly to make Coeur d’Alene schools secure and inclusive for all students.

Bev

Bev

Susan (2nd from the left) and her gorgeous family

Susan (2nd from the left) and her gorgeous family

Inaugural Meeting of PFLAG CDA

First and foremost:

Thanks to everyone for coming out! It was an amazingly informative meeting and we packed that 15-by-15-foot room with the most incredible energy!

Thank you to our brave leader, Juli Stratton for bringing us all together to discuss these important issues faced by our community. I have always been an ally, but it has not always been easy to break in to a normally close-knit and protective group and help. Thank you, Juli, for this outlet!

juli

Thanks, Juli!

It was amazing to be surrounded by people who come from all walks of life and embody every possible connection to the LGBT community, hearing the motivations behind their activism.

“I was raised in North Idaho, and I was taught and I believe that ‘you leave your campsite better than when you found it’…”

-Josh Swan

Bev Moss, who was integral to the original PFLAG Chapter in Coeur d’Alene, spoke to the history of the struggles of the LGBT community in this conservative location. In her view, our organization promising a safe place is even more critical now. Today’s climate is even more harsh than a few decades ago. The advent of “mega-churches” who blatantly spew hate and the connection of social media is a detriment to spreading the message of love and support.

1972 jeanne manford

PFLAG Founder, Jeanne Manford; Pride 1972

We hope to grow together and become a true community of humans. Not just LGBT, not just parents and family members. Everyone.

“LGBTQ+. I’m using the “plus” now because I want this to be for everyone. I want this to be because we are all part of the human race.”

-Juli Stratton

Subsequent meetings will be held on the first Tuesday of every month, from 6-7:30PM. The first hour will be discussion panels, guest speakers, videos, et cetera focusing on a predetermined theme. The following thirty minutes will be a support group for those who wish to stay.

Hope to see you there!