Jeanne Manford was an American schoolteacher who co-founded PFLAG — Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
In 1972, Manford and her husband were at home when they learned from a phone call that her son Morty, a gay activist, had been beaten while distributing flyers at a political gathering in New York City. Reports stated that her son was “kicked and stomped” while being led away by police. In response, she wrote a letter of protest to the New York Post, complaining of how the police had done nothing in response.
I have a homosexual son and I love him.
— Jeanne Manford, Letter to the Editor, New York Post
Manford marched with Morty in New York’s Christopher Street Liberation Day March (Pride parade) in June, carrying a sign that said “Parents of gays: unite in support of our children.” At the time, homosexuality was still considered a mental illness. She later recalled in an interview hat the “young people were hugging me, kissing me, screaming, asking if I would talk to their parents… few of them were out to their parents for fear of rejection.” This convinced both her and her husband of the need for a support group, “a bridge between the gay community and the heterosexual community.” The first formal meeting was called Parents of Gays and was attended by about 20 people. It wasn’t long after that PFLAG’s first meeting was held in March 1973.
Soon after, Manford began receiving calls from other parents across the country wanting to start groups in their own communities. In 1979 they came together for a national meeting in Washington DC at the National March for Gay and Lesbian Rights, where they decided to join together as one organization, making it grow to more than 350 groups nationwide with thousands of members. PFLAG became a safe haven for families of LGBTQ people to seek information and support. They were among the first organizations to distribute accurate, positive information about gay people to education institutions and communities of faith.
PFLAG gained serious attention from the public in 1981 when the “Dear Abby” column mentioned it as a resource to a concerned parent. In the following weeks, PFLAG received more than 7,000 letters requesting information and help. The first PFLAG National office was established in Los Angeles.
In June 1991, Manford was grand marshal of New York City’s Gay Pride March and in 1993, she was the grand marshal of the first Pride parade in Queens, NY.
PFLAG lobbied to end the US military’s practice of discharging gays and lesbians because of their sexual identities. They even gained support from first lady Barbara Bush, who 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.” In 1993, PFLAG broadened its vision to include bisexuals and later transgender people in 1998.
Jeanne Manford died at home in January 2013, aged 92, and in February, was posthumously honored with the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal, the second highest civilian award given by the US.
And that’s the end of this week’s Women in History series! I hope you learned about some awesome women in history!