PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) is the United States’ first and largest organization uniting families and allies with people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ). PFLAG National is the national organization, which provides support to the PFLAG network of local chapters. PFLAG has nearly 400 chapters across the United States, with more than 200,000 members and supporters.
The acronym PFLAG (pronounced PEE-flag) originally stood for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (later broadened to Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).
In April 1972, Jeanne Manford and her husband were at home in Flushing, Queens, when they learned from a hospital’s telephone call that her son Morty, a gay activist, had been beaten while distributing flyers inside the fiftieth annual Inner Circle dinner, a political gathering in New York City. In response, she wrote a letter of protest to the New York Post that identified herself as the mother of a gay protester and complained of police inaction. She gave interviews to radio and television shows in several cities in the weeks that followed. On June 25th of that year, she participated with her son in the New York LGBT Pride March, carrying a hand-lettered sign that read “Parents of Gays Unite in Support for Our Children”. Prompted by their enthusiastic reception, Jeanne and her son developed an idea for an organization of the parents of gays and lesbians that could be, Jeanne later said, “a bridge between the gay community and the heterosexual community”. They were soon holding meetings for such parents, with Jeanne’s husband participating as well.
The first formal meeting took place on March 11, 1973 at the Metropolitan-Duane Methodist Church in Greenwich Village (now the Church of the Village). Approximately 20 people attended. In the next few years, through word of mouth and community need, similar groups sprang up around the country, offering “safe havens” and mutual support for parents with gay and lesbian children. In 1976, PFLAG LA had their first meeting of 30 parents. By 1977, the group had integrated with other LGBT activist groups to oppose Anita Bryant’s anti-gay crusade and defeat the statewide Briggs Initiative. Following the 1979 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, representatives from these groups met for the first time in Washington, DC.
By 1980, PFLAG, then known as Parents FLAG, began to distribute information to educational institutions and communities of faith nationwide, establishing itself as a source of information for the general public. When Adele Starr, who organized the Los Angeles PFLAG chapter, called “Dear Abby” to discuss the purpose of PFLAG, “Dear Abby” mentioned PFLAG in one of her advice columns. Los Angeles PFLAG then received more than 7,500 letters requesting information. Every letter was answered by a member of the chapter. In 1981, members decided to launch a national organization. The first PFLAG office was established in Los Angeles under founding president Adele Starr.
In 1982, the Federation of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Inc., then representing some 20 groups, was incorporated in California and granted non-profit, tax-exempt status. In 1987, PFLAG relocated to Denver, under President Elinor Lewallen. Also in the 1980s, PFLAG worked to end the US military’s efforts to discharge lesbians—more than a decade before military issues came to the forefront of the GLBT movement. And by the late 1980s, PFLAG began to have notable success in organizing chapters in rural communities.
In 1990, following a period of significant growth, PFLAG employed an Executive Director, expanded its staff, and moved to Washington, DC. Also in 1990, PFLAG President Paulette Goodman sent a letter to Barbara Bush asking for Mrs. Bush’s support. The first lady’s personal reply stated, “I firmly believe that we cannot tolerate discrimination against any individuals or groups in our country. Such treatment always brings with it pain and perpetuates intolerance.” Inadvertently given to the Associated Press, her comments caused a political maelstrom and were perhaps the first gay-positive comments to come from the White House.
In time the scope of the organization expanded to include bisexuals, and ultimately, transgender people, but the name remained PFLAG. In particular, in 1998, gender identity, including transgender people, was added to the mission of PFLAG after a vote at their annual meeting in San Francisco. PFLAG was the first national LGBT organization to officially adopt a transgender-inclusive policy for its work, vowing not only to include transgender people in all of its work, but also never to support any policies or laws that are not trans-inclusive. In 2002, PFLAG’s Transgender Network, also known as TNET, became PFLAG’s first official “Special Affiliate,” recognized with the same privileges and responsibilities as regular chapters. In 2013, TNET was replaced by the Transgender and Gender Nonconforming (TGNC) Advisory Council.
In 2004, PFLAG/Chicago was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame as a Friend of the Community.
In 2013, Jeanne Manford was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by then President Barack Obama. That same year, a bronze plaque was installed at The Church of the Village in Greenwich Village, memorializing the fact that the first meeting of what came to be PFLAG was held at the church in 1973. The plaque reads:
“In 1972, Queens schoolteacher Jeanne Manford walked alongside her gay son, activist Morty Manford, at the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade, carrying a sign that read ‘Parents of Gays: Unite in Support of Our Children.’ The overwhelming response to that simple act led Jeanne, her husband Jules, and early pioneers of the LGBT equality movement to create a support group for LGBT people, their parents, family, and friends. The first meeting of that group – now known as PFLAG – took place on this site in March 1973. Placed by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation in partnership with PFLAG members everywhere, in honor of the legacy of love that began here”.