Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thankful for PFLAG

PFLAG Email
Thank you!Thanksgiving. It always reminds me of coming out.

It was Thanksgiving 1973…in rural Kansas. My brother, whom I seldom saw because he was in the Air Force, was home for the holiday and picked up clues in my excitement about my new friend Sarah. He was curious in a big-brother way. He asked a few questions, and encouraged me to tell Mom and Dad.

I told. They listened politely, asking no questions, saying little, and offering their standard comment: “Oh?”

Then, we drove to Grandpa and Grandma’s for Thanksgiving dinner. We ate too much, we watched football, we napped, we drove home.

Nobody told me I was bad. Nobody judged or condemned. Nobody asked questions. Nobody offered support.

For the next 20 years.

Even after I moved to New York In 1986 and started a public relations agency that focused on gay issues.

Still, nothing was said by my family.

In my third decade of being the out, out, OUT professional lesbian daughter, my mother--without explanation--grew bold. She began talking… with family, with neighbors, with my high school classmates, with her minister…and talking with pride about my work and our relationship.

Mom never told me what had changed for her. But I can tell you what changed for me.

Mom’s public affirmation freed me. She also sparked change in my little hometown. Today, a gay couple owns the floral shop, a classmate has boldly acknowledged her gay son, high school reunions are open and welcoming of what few LGBTQ classmates there are. And my hometown welcomes differences of all types...not saying much but also not judging.

We enjoyed a warm and close relationship in her later years. My mom wasn’t a firebrand like PFLAG’s founder Jeanne Manford but, like Jeanne, she knew that she needed to speak up. There was no PFLAG chapter in my hometown but now that I am part of PFLAG, I know without a doubt that she was a PFLAG Mom; in her own way, she quietly took a stand for equality.

So today, as you gather with your families--and I gather with my chosen family of LGBTQ and ally loved ones--I want to thank each of you for taking a stand for equality. Your courage has made the difference for so many people who, like me, needed affirmation to feel whole.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours,
Stephanie K. Blackwood, Director of DevelopmentPFLAG National
Stephanie Blackwood, PFLAG National

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Extending My Infinite Gratitude To PFLAG National

Aliya Levinstein, Intern
This truly has been one whirlwind of a semester.  Thanksgiving is in a week, my finals are coming up, and unfortunately, my time at PFLAG National is coming to a close.  To put it simply, these past few months have been nothing short of inspiring.
To start, the PFLAG National staff have been the best mentors I could have asked for in an internship.  They welcomed my many questions in the beginning and made sure that everything was going well throughout the entire process.  I loved coming into the office every day because everyone has such a passion for their job; it truly is a pleasure to be surrounded by people who love what they are doing and do it successfully.

While at PFLAG, I had the opportunity to meet some of the champions of the movement.  During my very first week, I was lucky enough to spend time with Helen and Bogdan Globa, who are Ukrainian activists for LGBT rights.  Listening to their stories and getting to visit Capitol Hill with them was a true treat.  They provided a perspective that I hadn’t heard before and showed me right off the bat that this is a global issue.  I attended a hearing with Lizzie Velasquez, an anti-bullying champion.  Her stories are raw and full of emotion; she has the ability to change people’s hearts and minds.  I attended numerous lobby visits advocating for the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, persuading congressmembers to support a bill that would allow so many more children to be adopted.  These experiences, along with many more, shaped my experiences at PFLAG into something special.

While at PFLAG, I have been able to write the bimonthly policy memo, Policy Matters.  Writing this memo has kept me up to date on everything that had to do with the LGBT movement.  There has been a ton activity and change in the LGBT sphere, especially in the last few months; being able to keep track of all of the changes that have been occurring at rapid speed. Working on this memo has been one of the most educational experiences I’ve had while at PFLAG.


I am beyond grateful for all of the opportunities that I have had at my time at PFLAG.  I have made some of the most incredible memories and wonderful connections at my time here.  As I know it is always difficult to leave something that truly means so much to me, I always have to remind myself that it is not a goodbye, it is a “see you later.” So thank you PFLAG, I look forward to seeing you again soon.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The 2014 Midterm Elections: A Problem with Voter Apathy

If you were to imagine what the students in Washington, DC are like, you would probably think of them as hard-working, motivated, and strong in their convictions;   you’d be right about all of traits.  A trait that I have always found interesting about students in DC is their affinity for politics.  I don’t know if DC attracts students that already gravitate towards politics or if living in DC turns students into political wonks; regardless, we--yes, I’m one of them--are everywhere.

Election Day is a huge event in DC, where people view it as the voting on our new neighbors.On election night on my campus (American University),  there are multiple viewing parties all over campus.  Social media is flooded with results and opinions, and everywhere you walk, people are discussing potential outcomes.  I personally, had a difficult time focusing on my homework because I kept checking on the results. It seems as if the election gets more viewing time at American than the Superbowl does!
And yet, American is anything BUT a microcosmic view of the rest of the country, where voter apathy is at an all-time high.

Check out this stat: of eligible U.S voters, the turnout was 36.6%.  This was lower than the turnout in the midterm election in 2010, which was about 46%.  And the numbers are even lower in local elections. What happens when only about 37% of the eligible population turns out to vote in national elections?  Are the people that are elected representing the interests of the majority of Americans?  Likely not.

There are so many reasons people don’t vote: they’re too busy, they don’t know anything about the candidates, they don’t think that their single vote will make a difference. There is validity to these claims, especially the last one.  It is incredibly unlikely that one single vote will sway an election in one way or another, this idea that everyone has results in huge blocks of the population not voting.  Just because someone else will do it doesn’t mean that you don’t have to.  By going out and voting, you may influence those around you to do the same.  By voting, you are taking a stance about what is important to you.  Don’t let others speak for you, speak up for yourself and those you love in a simple way: vote.

This is not me saying that I am happy with or upset with last Tuesday’s outcome.  This is not me saying that more Democrats or Republicans or Independents should have been elected.  This is me saying that we need to be more accurately represented and that can only happen when more people turn out to vote.  As Americans, we are lucky to have the right to vote and witness peaceful transitions of power on a regular basis.  Let’s all take advantage of this right and do our civic duty from here on out.  

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Tim Cook Comes Out: Another perspective

Today we're happy to hear from a past intern, Eric Ascher. Tim Cook's coming-out announcement made a strong impression on him; we are grateful he chose to share it with us.

This past summer, I was an intern for PFLAG National. I remember that on my first day in the office, we had a discussion about how there wasn’t an openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company. I remember bringing up the rumors of Tim Cook, the new CEO of Apple, being gay, and we all noted that he was not out publicly.

But on October 30, Tim Cook made history by becoming the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company. As Cook wrote, “I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifice of others. So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.”

This speaks to the importance of coming out and being open about one’s sexual orientation whenever it is safe and possible. The more people who are out today, the easier it will be in the future for others to make the same decision.

Apple has already been vocal about being for full LGBT equality, having posted a video on Youtube showing hundreds of employees marching in the San Francisco Pride Parade. Apple went on record against Proposition 8 in California, signed onto a brief to the Supreme Court urging them to strike down DOMA, and has been vocally supportive of a federal employee non-discrimination act (ENDA). Earlier this week, Cook also spoke about equality in his home state of Alabama

Learning about Apple products has been a passion of mine since I was 13 years old. To have the CEO of Apple be brave and come out is personally inspiring to me. I’m sure that many other teenagers who, until today, did not see openly LGBT CEOs in the business world will be inspired as well.

I know we still have work to do. Because congress still has not passed ENDA, people in 29 states can be fired solely for being gay, and people in 32 states can be fired solely for being transgender. 

I’m glad to see this very important step in the right direction. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Press Release: PFLAG National Welcomes New Board Member, Regional Directors

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 4, 2014
Liz Owen | lowen@pflag.org | (202) 657-4026  

PFLAG NATIONAL WELCOMES NEW BOARD MEMBER, REGIONAL DIRECTORS
WASHINGTON, DC – PFLAG National—the nation's largest organization uniting families, allies, and people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ)—welcomed a new board member, Stephanie Battaglino, and two new regional directors, Conal Charles and Julie Wilson, last weekend. All three bring significant experience to PFLAG National and its network of more than 350 chapters.


Battaglino is a Corporate Vice President at New York Life, and has a professional career in marketing, communications, and strategic planning which spans over 30 years. Outside of her professional life, she is a tireless activist and advocate for transgender rights. In October 2005, Battaglino transitioned in the workplace, and then went on to spearhead the formation of New York Life's first-ever LGBT employee resource group. As the founder and owner of Follow Your Heart, LLC she is an internationally recognized speaker, workshop presenter, and trainer.


“We are excited to have Stephanie joining us on our board of directors,” said Jody M. Huckaby, PFLAG National’s executive director. “PFLAG’s work, under our newly-named board president Jean Hodges, will benefit greatly from Stephanie's personal experience as someone who is transgender, and from her years of corporate experience. Stephanie's is a crucial voice, and we’re so glad she is raising that voice in support of PFLAG.”


Battaglino echoed the sentiment. "I am thrilled and honored to join the PFLAG family. The commitment and passion of Jean and my fellow board members is very inspiring to me personally.  I consider myself very fortunate to be coming onto the Board at such a pivotal point in the evolution of the organization, and am looking forward to contributing to its future—in particular with the trans-inclusive work that is underway."


Conal Charles was born and raised in Mumbai, India. In 2005, he came to the United States on an MBA scholarship and, after completing his degree, moved to Atlanta for work. In 2009, he found his local PFLAG chapter and some wonderfully supportive parents who helped him greatly with his own coming- out journey. Their support inspired him to continue his work with PFLAG. He joined the board of PFLAG Atlanta in 2010 and has since served two terms as chapter Co-President.


“As co-president of the Atlanta chapter, I’ve been working to change the impression that PFLAG is only for families and friends,” says Charles. “In fact, our most valuable conversations are between a parent and someone else's child. Parents often cannot talk to their own children about their own hopes and fears without precipitating a family argument. When they can ask a question of someone else in a safe space, an honest conversation can actually take place; these conversations are what I love most about PFLAG.”


Julie Wilson was the president of PFLAG Fort Collins/Northern Colorado for six years and is active in the Colorado Coalition of PFLAG Chapters. Loveland, Colorado. Recently retired from Hewlett Packard, she has been a speaker at Colorado State University for “Visible Voices,” was a member of the Diversity Council of Thompson R2J schools, did Safe Space trainings for Hewlett Packard, and is working with her ELCA Lutheran congregation to become an explicitly welcoming church. Julie and her spouse have two sons, one of whom is gay, married, and living in Ohio.


“I'm excited to be the new Mountain West Regional Director and look forward to meeting many of the PFLAGers in the five-state region,” said Wilson. “Living in two of the five states I represent—Colorado in summer, Arizona in winter—gives me a unique opportunity to attend meetings and be part of the broader PFLAG community. By getting to know people, I hope to provide them with support and leadership to grow their individual chapters and improve PFLAG's visibility throughout the region."


“As PFLAG membership and chapter growth continues across the nation, the work of our 13 Regional Directors becomes vital to connecting, encouraging and supporting those in their regions," said newly elected Regional Director Council Chair—and PFLAG National Board Vice President—Kathy Godwin. “I welcome both Julie Wilson in the Mountain West and Conal Charles in the Gulf Region plus Puerto Rico. Collectively, this group brings the boots on the ground into our view."


###

Founded in 1972 with the simple act of a mother publicly supporting her gay son, PFLAG is the original family and ally organization. Uniting people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) with families, friends, and allies, PFLAG is committed to advancing equality through its mission of support, education, and advocacy. PFLAG has more than 350 chapters and 200,000 supporters crossing multiple generations of American families in major urban centers, small cities, and rural areas in all 50 states. To learn more, visit pflag.org.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

PFLAG National Responds to Apple CEO Tim Cook's Coming-Out Announcement

Apple CEO Tim Cook/
Photograph by Ashley Gilbertson
for Bloomberg Businessweek
PFLAG National Executive Director Jody M. Huckaby had the following to say today regarding the coming-out announcement from Apple CEO Tim Cook:

"Every time someone tells their story, it changes hearts and minds. However, too many Americans fail to realize that in places like Tim Cook's home state of Alabama, people can be fired or discriminated against because of who they are or whom they love.
As we've seen in so many workplace place environments, people are starting to feel more comfortable bringing their whole, authentic selves to the office. Tim Cook is also very fortunate to live in California, a state which has workplace protections in place, so that no one can be discriminated against for their actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. Sadly, this is not the case for millions of other LGBTQ people who are neither CEOs, nor living in a state with such protections. I hope that Mr. Cook will join PFLAG National and the broad coalition of other organizations in asking the House to bring the Employment Nondiscrimination Act to a vote--and soon--so that others may enjoy this same opportunity."

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The LGBTQ Movement is Forging On

Marriage equality is an issue that people have been advocating for for a long time.  In 2003, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts became the first court to find a ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.  Full marriage equality is something that I knew that I would see in my lifetime; however, I did not expect it to arrive this rapidly.  


A whopping 32 states and the District of Columbia now recognize same-sex marriage. .  According to Freedom to Marry, before section three of the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down in June 2013, only 12 states and the District of Columbia had marriage equality.  In the last three weeks alone, 13 states have gained marriage equality and three others are on the fast track to gaining it as well.  This means that more states have gained marriage equality in the month of October than in the last 10 years prior to U.S. v Windsor.  With the exception of judges in Louisiana and  Puerto Rico,every federal judge who has heard a same-sex marriage ban case has overturned the ban.   


Even with that promise--and even with all of the action taking place right now--there are still 18 states that do not allow loving and committed  same-sex couples to marry.  This is unacceptable.   Whether it be from a Supreme Court ruling, a circuit court ruling, or a state court ruling, there needs to be an affirmative decision made to bring marriage equality to the rest of this country as soon as circumstances permit; I believe we will see full marriage equality in the next few years, at most.  People opposed to  marriage equality are, in my opinion delaying the inevitable.  The train is forging on, full speed ahead.  

It is crucial, however, that we do not forget about the rest of the movement in its wake.  

PFLAG National’s new president, Jean Hodges, emphasized this when she was installed at the annual meeting on Friday, October 24th.  She shared in her speech that “We must not be lulled into believing that full equality has arrived...The work of PFLAG is not done, not by a long shot!”  Our new president recognizes the importance of advocating on all fronts, marriage equality is an integral part of the LGBT movement, but not the only part of the LGBT movement.  

At the annual meeting, the present members of PFLAG National voted to change the name of the organization from Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays to PFLAG National.  This name change was enacted to be more inclusive and mirror the organization’s already inclusive practices.  The new name more accurately represents the work that PFLAG does, which is support, educate, and advocate on behalf of all LGBTQ persons and allies.  I believe that this name is inclusive of all of the issues the LGBTQ community faces, not just marriage equality.  

There are multiple pieces of legislation that PFLAG will be advocating for over the next few months, all of which can be found in our new publication, One Voice Can Change the World: The PFLAG National Policy Guide and Advocacy Toolkit, which will be released in the next issue of Policy Matters, on November 5th. Check out this publication for effective ways to use your voice on behalf of yourself and your LGBTQ loved ones. Marriage is just the first stop on a long journey to full civil equality and societal affirmation.