Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Stranger’s Death Impacts My Life



Jeanne Manford and I are Connected

There are people in your life, past, present, and future who have a major impact on the way you turn out. Maybe it was your fourth grade teacher, like Mrs. Campbell, who had a kind word for you even when you couldn’t get the hang of long division, but who every afternoon would pat you on the back for encouragement.
Or, your grandmother, who was an executive way before most women were working. and taught you that you could do anything you set your mind to. Or maybe a brilliant employer, who would be willing to impart knowledge, gleaned from his years working in the same business, to you, a trainee. These people you knew well, saw them almost daily, and they affected you and shaped you into what you would become.
Last week, someone who had an impact on my life died. She was 92.  Her name was Jeanne Manford. Did I know her? Not directly. But I cried nevertheless when she died.  It turns out that  I knew her work because I partook of its advantages. But it wasn’t until I read her obituary that I understood the connection.

Pioneering Gay Rights Ally

Jeanne’s pioneering work began in 1972 when she, a Bronx schoolteacher, chose to stickup for her son who had been beaten because he was gay. From her irate letter to the New York Post publicizing the beating of her son in 1972 to her march with her son in the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade two months later, Jeanne and her husband started a grassroots organization  Parents of Gays” or POG.
At first, in Manhattan, only twenty desperate-for-answers parents attended a meeting headed by Jeanne and her husband Jules in 1973. The interest mushroomed and her tentacles reached television, newspaper, and radio interviews. By the early 1980’s, the group formally established itself as a national organization fighting for equality for LGBT people. The name was changed to PFLAG  or Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

PFLAG Takes Off

PFLAG’s mission of support, education, and advocacy is felt in its 350 chapters and over 200,000 members in the United States alone. Because of this pioneer, the mother of the straight ally movement, overwhelmed straight parents can find advice from parents who’ve “been there,” LGBTQ teens can find allies so they don’t feel so alone, and parents in numbers can brainstorm how they can change existing conditions so equality is met for their children.

What People- In- the- Know Acknowledge

President Barack Obama in a 2009 speech, called Jeanne’s work “the story of America... of ordinary citizens organizing, agitating educating for change, of hope stronger than hate, of love more powerful than any insult or injury. Jody Huckaby, Executive Director of PFLAG National, said that “all of us- people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and straight allies alike – owe Jeanne our gratitude. We are all beneficiaries of her courage.”

What I’ve Experienced

Last night at a PFLAG meeting in my town, we all said we were indebted to this courageous woman. Without Jeanne Manford’s foresight, we would not have been at a meeting discussing Gay Pride events, the play “Next Fall” about a romance between two gay guys or a fundraiser  for the Spring.