JEANNE MANDFORD, the teacher who started the first support organization for parents of gay children, was born on this day.
After her son was beaten at a gay rights demonstration in 1972, Manford wrote a letter to the New York Post denouncing the police’s failure to intervene. Her letter generated a huge response in the gay community; Manford later said that, at the time, “I didn’t think anything of it, but I guess it was the first time a mother ever sat down and very publicly said, ‘Yes, I have a homosexual son.’”
Eric Marcus, the author of a history on the gay rights movement in the U.S., says that move was unprecedented.
“It’s a little hard to imagine now what that period was like, how revolutionary it was for a parent to walk in the Gay Pride march in New York City carrying a sign that said, ‘Parents unite in support of our gay children,’ ” he says. “The timing was right, the time really called for someone like Jeanne, and Jeanne was there.
Two months later she walked alongside her son Morty in a Gay Pride march, carrying a sign reading, “Parents of Gays: Unite in Support for Our Children.” In an interview, Manford recalled the tremendous response to her presence: “young people were hugging me, kissing me, screaming, asking if I would talk to their parents… [as] few of them were out to their parents for fear of rejection.”
After this experience, Manford and her husband, Jules, decided to start an organization for parents of gays and lesbians to act as “a bridge between the gay community and the heterosexual community.” At the time, homosexuality was still considered a mental illness and virtually no LGBT ally organizations existed.
In 1973, the Manfords held the first meeting of their new group, Parents of Gays, at the Metropolitan Community Church in Manhattan with 20 people in attendance. Manford became a prominent national spokesperson for the cause and helped encourage the development of similar groups around the country.
By 1982, 20 of these groups united to form a national organization, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays or PFLAG. Today, PFLAG has 200,000 supporters and 400 chapters in the US, and it has inspired the formation of PFLAG groups in numerous other countries ranging from Australia to Vietnam.
Morty Manford passed away in 1992 of complications from AIDS. Jeanne Manford passed away in 2013 at the age 93 and was posthumously awarded the Citizens Medal by President Barack Obama. In speaking about her impact, former PFLAG National Executive Director Jody Huckaby commended Manford for showing “the power of one person and their willingness to stand up.” Jesuit priest and author James Martin added in a tribute, “No matter what you think about the hot-button issue of same-sex marriage, no matter what religion you are, no matter what political party you favor, I hope that you say a prayer for Mrs. Manford. For she loved prophetically.”
Building Connections & Community for Gay Men since 1989