Let's celebrate the birthday of PFLAG's founder, Jeanne Manford. Read her inspiring story, and then click here to send YOUR birthday wishes to this inspirational mom!
Teachers have the power to transform lives and generations. However, it was Queens, NY schoolteacher Jeanne Manford’s extraordinary acts outside the classroom that changed the lives of millions of lesbian, gay and straight Americans.
In 1972 being gay was a crime, over half of the U.S. population deemed homosexuality morally wrong, vicious attacks on gay people were commonplace, and the idea of equality for gays and lesbians was a radical notion. But this didn’t stop Jeanne Manford from ensuring her gay son, Morty, received the same treatment as her straight daughter, Suzanne.
Following a brutal attack on his life at a rally, Manford stood alongside her son in a protest through the streets of Manhattan, carrying a sign that read “Parents of Gays Unite in Support for Our Children.” Begged by observers to speak to other parents, she started support groups teaching parents to accept and support their LGBT loved ones and become, like her, brave advocates for equality. As demand steadily increased, Manford founded PFLAG, a national organization with a mission of support, education, and advocacy. Today, PFLAG chapters can be found statewide, in communities big and small, serving millions of people with volunteer support, education outreach, and a call to advocate at local, state and federal levels for equality for their LGBT loved ones.
Manford gave voices and faces to families who lived in shame and silence, empowering them to speak out for family values for all families.
In America’s civil rights history, Manford is the Mother of the Straight Ally Movement, creating a space for straight people to take a public stand for LGBT equality. Her simple act of speaking out on behalf of her son ignited a movement, and led to the creation of an organization which serves millions of Americans. Studies show that her work with LGBT people and their families is directly tied to raising healthy and empowered youth, giving them self-confidence and the tools to navigate an often adverse and prejudiced culture.
As one of the first highly visible allies alongside LGBT people, Manford shifted perceptions that equality is an issue not just for the group demanding it, but for those who surround and support the members of that group and now in 2012, the 40th anniversary year of PFLAG’s founding, acceptance for LGBT people in the US is at a record high. Organizations from school-based Gay-Straight Alliances to ally-led LGBT employee groups in workplaces can all trace their lineage to Manford’s work. Her impact can be felt outside the US as well: nearly 20 countries, inspired by Manford’s PFLAG model, have started their own PFLAG-like organizations around the globe.
Manford spoke out as a parent, a teacher, a citizen. This simple act has empowered millions to do the same, demonstrating the force that a single voice has to transform the push for acceptance and equality for all. Jeanne Manford’s impact is clear: millions of Americans now benefit from her bravery.