The Parents' Cornerby Emily Rizzo
What kind of parents join PFLAG? I told my parents about the local chapter but they said it's a "misery loves company" group and don't want to go.
The one common denominator of all PFLAG parents is that they care about their families. They want to keep a healthy, loving relationship with all their children, gay and straight, and among other family members as well. It's true "Family Values" and not the twisted lies of the Religious Right.
PFLAG has been compared to a three-legged stool with each leg representing one part of the organization's mission: support, education and advocacy.
Most parents come to PFLAG seeking support. Perhaps they feel burdened by feelings of shame, guilt or anger at their child; they are convinced their world has shattered and they just know they need help. These parents generally get the most attention at meetings and some chapters take them aside for special counseling until they are no longer in crisis. The goal, however, is to move them "from tissues to issues."
Other parents feel okay with having a gay child but still have questions or want to learn more; they may be worried about discrimination, or AIDS or what kind of life their child can expect to lead. PFLAG gives them a chance to meet gay and lesbian people and ask them all the questions they may be too embarrassed to ask their own child. For some parents, this is their first opportunity to talk with gay people (of course we all know gay people, we just may not know they are gay).
Other parents may come to PFLAG because they want to change the world. They've figured out that the problem isn't with their gay child but with a society which condemns being gay. They want to join an organization that is working for change by organized lobbying (for the passage of ENDA for instance), media campaigns (Project Open Mind) and local outreach, including speaking engagements and TV and radio appearances.
The goal is for a parent who comes in needing support to stay on to help other new parents, participate in local community work such as speaking before a local PTA, testify at hearings and also maintain close contact with legislators by mail and in person visits.
Some parents may come to only one or two meetings but gain enough to feel better and not come back. Others will come for years; in the New York City chapter (which predated the national organization of PFLAG) some parents have been attending meetings regularly for over twenty years.
Joining PFLAG can be a rewarding experience beyond the immediate needs of support. Some of us boast that the best thing that ever happened to us was having a gay child because that's what got us involved in PFLAG.