Wednesday, October 23, 2013

BRIDEGROOM: A Documentary

This week, PFLAG National is having its 2013 Convention, and on Friday night, we are proud to hold a special preview screening of BRIDEGROOM.  

BRIDEGROOM is a documentary film by director Linda Bloodworth Thomason that tells the emotional journey of Shane Bitney Crone and Tom Bridegroom, two young men in a loving and committed relationship that was cut tragically short. The story of what happened after Tom's accidental death—of how people in relationships without the legal protections of marriage can find themselves completely shut out and ostracized by family members—is poignant, provoking and opens a window into the issue of marriage equality and human rights.

We are honored to welcome Shane Bitney Crone as a guest speaker after the screening, to learn more about his story and the important issues the film raises.

The following is a reprint of a blog post by Shane from this past April on Huffington Post Gay Voices, with thanks to Shane and the Huffington Post for allowing us to share it with all of you.

As a young gay man, growing up in a small, conservative town in Montana wasn't easy. I knew I was different from my peers well before I understood what the word "gay" even meant. As a closeted teen, I experienced a significant amount of bullying everywhere I went: in the halls of my school, at high school football games and even in the church youth group. I was called "fag" and "queer" on a regular basis and even watched as my classmates once took turns spitting into a cup, the contents of which were meant to be poured over my head.
Once an outgoing, confident and happy child, I quickly became a depressed, hopeless and lost teenager who did not want to continue living in a world so full of hate. For too long I had been treated horribly, belittled and made to feel like less than I was, simply for being gay. I didn't understand the cruelty of my peers, but I eventually became conditioned to believe that I deserved it.
During these tumultuous high school years, I developed a crush on my best friend. One day I finally mustered up the courage to give him a love letter. Alas, he didn't feel the same way. Though his initial rejection stung, he was kind about the situation and said he wanted to remain friends. It was my first heartache, but I knew I'd be OK -- until his parents discovered the letter and told everyone in the community about my "scandalous" behavior. They forbade me from seeing their son and convinced our principal to ban me from school sporting events. I was even denied the opportunity to attend a church trip simply because he would be on it too. This was in spite of the fact that I had worked all summer raising money to go.
What saved me throughout these harsh years was the prospect of one day moving away and living in a place where I could be free to be myself and possibly find someone who would love me as me. However, this dream seemed fleeting, because, at the time, I barely considered myself worthy of love.
Thankfully, I didn't give up. I persevered, graduated from high school and moved to California, where I met the love of my life, Tom Bridegroom. Tom was an amazing person who believed in me and spent his days convincing me that I was worthy of love -- his love. I didn't understand why he had chosen me, but I was grateful each and every day anyway.
Throughout our relationship we hid the fact that we were a couple, mainly because I was embarrassed and ashamed to be out. I loved him more than anything, but I allowed years of bullying, homophobic messages in the media and conservative Christian hate speech to convince me that my relationship would be best when concealed. To circumvent potential judgment when we were around others, we developed a secret code: We would find a way to tap each other's hand, leg or a hard surface three times to say "I love you." Tap, tap, tap: I love you. It became a very special sound for both of us, and often we would just say "tap, tap, tap" out loud, because no one knew what it meant. It was our little secret.
Both of us agreed that we would not come out to our families until we'd found the person with whom we wanted to spend the rest of our lives. When we finally decided that we had found that in each other, we made good on our agreement. I went first. My family was supportive and happy for me, which was naturally a huge relief, because Tom and I had awkwardly pretended to be roommates for years. Tom's experience did not go so well. His parents were furious. They blamed me for "making" their son gay, and his father attacked Tom and threatened him with a shotgun. Tom's parents begged him to seek treatment and told him that being gay is a sinful secret that he should have taken to his grave.
Regardless of that nightmare, Tom remained the happy, positive and loving human being he had always been. We shared so many wonderful life experiences together: We bought our first home, adopted a dog, started a business, traveled the world and even planned on starting a family one day.
On May 7, 2011, Tom was photographing our friend on her rooftop. He got too close to the edge, lost his balance and fell four stories. When I arrived at the emergency room, nurses refused to tell me anything and would not allow me to see him, because he and I weren't "family." Tom and I had been together for six years, and we had vowed to marry each other when it was legally recognized, but in the eyes of the hospital and the government, I was just a roommate. Eventually a doctor came in and said coldly, "He didn't make it." That was it. The love of my life, whom I had just seen that morning, was no longer alive. I was numb. My best friend fought with the stubborn nurses to let me see Tom's body, but they all refused. Eventually a sympathetic nurse, risking her job, quietly led me into his room. His body was covered, but I could see blood around where his face was and tubes emerging from his chest. The only place I could put my hand was on his leg. I did three final taps and left.
It didn't occur to me in that moment that I would never see him again.
Once Tom's mother arrived in Los Angeles, I had no control. She took his body back to Indiana, where his funeral was held, and barred me from attending. Tom's family had threatened to hurt me if I showed my face in their town.
On the one-year anniversary of Tom's accident, I posted a video on Youtube that told our story. Although it was a cathartic process for me and a tribute to the love of my life, more than anything I wanted it to serve as a warning to other LGBT couples. The video went viral and garnered over 2 million views in a week. Soon thereafter, writer/director Linda Bloodworth Thomason approached me and convinced me that Tom's and my story needed to be told. That story is now the documentary BRIDEGROOM, which will be making it's world television premiere on OWN - The Oprah Winfrey network on 10/27. 
Tom taught me so much about life and myself. Losing him taught me so much more. I miss him every day, but I thank God for the time we had together. At the premiere I will wear the promise ring Tom gave me, as well as the ring that I bought him after he passed. We used to hide our love, but now I proudly show the world just how much we cherished each other.
I miss you, Tom. Tap, tap, tap.
If you're not able to join us at the convention, then be sure to tune in to OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network this Sunday, October 27th, for the world television premiere of BRIDEGROOM, at 10:00pm ET/PT.  


Press Contact:  Liz Owen   |  | (202) 467-8180 ext. 214


WHO: Congressman David N. Cicilline (D-RI), Co-Chair, Congressional LGBT Equality CaucusCongressman Mark Allan Takano (D-CA), Co-Chair, Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus
Brad Jacklin, Executive Director,
Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus
Amber Shipley, Policy Advisor,
Senator Tammy Baldwin
WHAT: PFLAG National Lobby Day Kickoff Breakfast
WHEN: Thursday, October 24th from 9:00am–10:00am
*Please note: the best time for video/audio coverage is 9:00am—9:35am
WHERE: HVC 215 (In the Capitol Visitor’s Center), Washington, DC

WHY: The speakers will motivate hundreds of PFLAG members and supporters from across the country as they prepare to lobby their legislators. These champions for LGBT equality will discuss the importance of PFLAG members’ personal stories as a tool for change, as well as their support for PFLAG National’s legislative priorities, including The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), The Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA), The Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), The Every Child Deserves a Family (ECDF) Act, The HIV Organ Policy Equity (HOPE) Act, The Respect for Marriage Act (RMA), The Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act (DPBO), and common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform.

Founded in 1972 with the simple act of a mother publicly supporting her gay son, PFLAG is the original family and ally organization. Made up of parents, families, friends, and straight allies uniting with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, PFLAG is committed to advancing equality through its mission of support, education and advocacy. Now in its 41st year, 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

The PFLAGXpress arrives in DC...with a special message from Suzanne Swan, daughter of Jeanne Manford!

The PFLAG Express is proud to host a guest contributor to the PFLAG National Blog today: Suzanne Swan, the daughter of Jeanne Manford, PFLAG's original voice who changed the world. We are honored to deliver her message, carried cross country by PFLAGXpress:

Having a mother like Jeanne Manford was truly a blessing. She was a great person and taught us to love and respect people and ideas.  Mom loved and protected her children, but when she couldn’t keep us from harm, like all parents, she would be upset. She became infuriated when my brother Morty was brutally beaten by Michael Maye, a fire captain and  a former Golden Gloves champion. Morty suffered injuries that hospitalized him.  Politicians and police officers at the scene didn't offer any help to my brother and this greatly angered my mother.
Mom was pragmatic; she did what was logical and what needed to be done. She was outraged that someone wanted to hurt her child and so she sent letters about the attack and the lack of response by the police to  the New York newspapers, all but one declined to print her words. The New York Post published her letter where-in she berated the attacker who hurt Morty. This letter made headlines in the Gay community, literally hundreds of Morty's friends called him. They were astonished. They couldn't believe that a parent would admit that they had a gay child or that a parent would stand up for them in such a public way.  
When Morty came out to my parents, Mom's only concern was for him; how he would be treated by society, would he have the same rights and privileges as anyone else, the same opportunities...
In 1972, my mother was quoted in the New York Times as saying: 'Morty has his own life to live, if he can make a good life for himself and be happy, then I will be happy.  People are entitled to their human rights and dignity.'
Mom loved Morty fiercely and she would have done anything for him. If Morty was gay, then being gay must be a good thing; this was never in question.
Mom marched with Morty in the second New York City LGBT Pride parade in 1972. The now-famous sign that she held read "Parents of gays: unite in support of our children". It was during this march that she became an activist. When the young men and woman who screamed and rushed over to her and cried and hugged her and begged that she speak with their parents, Mom realized how many people were hurting because they couldn't talk to their parents about the deepest meaning of who they are, how many parents were hurting because they didn't understand their children... she knew that the conversation between parents and LGBT children must be started. She and Morty also knew that the straight parents were the link the LGBT community needed to the rest of society to be understood and accepted. 
History would answer her call with PFLAG chapters in all fifty states with over 350 chapters and more than 200,000 members, in addition to many international chapters. 
Mom passed away in January of 2013 and a memorial was held at the New York Metropolitan Church where the first PFLAG meetings we we held. 

Councilman Daniel Drumm read into the NY City Council record: “Jeanne and Morty once fought from the balcony of this Council Chambers for the passage of the gay rights bill in the NYC Council. Today she was remembered by that same body as the gay rights pioneer that she was. Times change!"

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The PFLAGXpress continues its journey...

From San Francisco to Washington DC...

Monday, October 21st
The #PFLAGXpress is closing in on Chicago! At Otummwa, Iowa. Experienced one sour look in response to PFLAG at breakfast, though no open confrontation.

The #PFLAGxpress is now in Central Illinois! We're coming up to Chicago soon and then just one more day until Washington, DC for the PFLAG National Conference!

Monday, October 22nd
The #PFLAGxpress is in America's heartland! We made it to Chicago and here we are at Union Station. We're 2,130 away from our home back in San Francisco (so far) and each mile traveled has been beautiful. 

We've spoken to some great people and we still have another day's trek to go until Washington, DC! America: we salute you.

We can't wait to hear about the conversations you had as you made your way across the country to join us in DC for the National Convention. #1Voice13!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The PFLAGXpress: Lori, Day One

At  9:10 ,on a crisp autumn morning, I boarded an Amtrak train that pulled
out of Emery ville train station for point east. It was to be a three day trip across the heartland of America.  As a longtime San Francisco Bay Area resident many of the stations on this first day of the trip were familiar to me as convenient stops on way to a weekend of skiing, hiking or for trying my luck at a roulette wheel. However that was before my time as an
active PFLAG member and today's journey would be viewed through a different prism. In fact one might even call it a social experiment. The question was, how would people react to two “out” PFLAGers and where would that
interaction go?

As a conversation starter we wore our PFLAG buttons prominently and it worked like a charm. Our first encounter was at lunch when we sat down with
a father who was traveling with his 13 year old son.  “Oh,” he said pleasantly when we answered his query about our buttons. We stuck out. To our surprise, both Brandon and I balked at any further discussion about what PFLAG was about. Later we agreed that the boy's presence made us hesitant about launching into our elevator speech. Lesson learned: even PFLAGer's have to fight the ingrained societal message that parents have the right to control what their children should know about sexual

Our second encounter was better, but the lady we spoke to said no more than
a “good for you” when we explained that we were going to a PFLAG convention. Undeterred, we pressed on and by dinner time we had settled into the routine of train travel and  we hit our stride. In the dining car, our companions were two gentlemen one of whom was politely interested but the second man turned out to be a kindred spirit. He was from Pittsburgh, dating a bisexual woman and had a trans niece to boot.

By night fall we reached Winnemucca and we knew that by morning we would be way outside the Bay Area Bubble. I wonder what we'll encounter tomorrow?

The PFLAGXpress: Brandon, Day One

Our train has an observation car with a curved glass ceiling and seating arrangements with comfortable chairs. Windows cover almost every surface and the seating is angled towards other passengers which naturally encourages conversation during our very long journey.

And it's a long journey indeed.

We could have chosen to squeeze our 2,800 mile trek into a quick five hour plane ride on one of the many jumbo jets zipping in the air. We would have been crowded into the cramped seats and pretended to sleep through the bad movie. We'd quickly forget the guy who typed away at his spreadsheet to our left or the snoring lady in the next row since we'd probably never see either again. In as much time as it takes to roast a turkey, we'd arrive in Washington, DC for the PFLAG National Conference with time to spare for dinner.

Not us. Instead of a a flight at 550mph and 30,000 feet up, our stainless steel train car will slowly traverse eleven states and four time zones over the next three and a half days. It's very easy to romanticize a long train trip; all the old black and white movies took place on board trains, your fork and knife in the dining car are metal instead of plastic, and you get to wear kitschy train hats and no one bats an eye.

Additionally, the jarringly slower pace of life on a train allows for conversation between strangers. Our little enclosed train creates its own temporary world with about one hundred roommates crammed together along the five cars. For the next three days, everyone we'll speak to is being pulled by the same diesel engine ahead of us and we'll all dine with each other in the dining car.

During our normal lives off the rails, we all have the opportunity to interact with new people and strike up conversations but we often convince ourselves that we "don't have enough time" to open up and chat, even though we probably do. Stuck together in this long, multi day journey, our fellow train passengers are suddenly potential friends, even if for only a handful of days. The train is now our community and we all have the time to enjoy the ride and each others' company. Save for the breath-taking views, there are virtually no distractions. We all rely on the original entertainment: conversation.

This special use of time is why the PFLAG Express is slowly crawling across America; if there's anything that PFLAGers know well, it's how to talk to new people.

PFLAG encourages others to open up and share with strangers all the time and most PFLAGers have experienced this in a support meeting. We meet to hear peoples' stories, their triumphs and occasionally their sorrows. We build community with every interaction.

During the next three days, we will mix and mingle with our fellow train passengers as we make our way to Washington, DC for the National Convention. With the help of the large PFLAG buttons that we're wearing, we've already had some great, positive conversations. We're asking our new friends: "tell us about a single voice who changed your world" and we're hearing some great responses. We'll write more on this in a future post.

Happy trails from somewhere near Arches National Park, Utah,

PFLAG Express (Lori and Brandon)

Friday, October 18, 2013

The PFLAGXpress to the 2013 National Convention: All aboard!

Tomorrow, two PFLAGers from San Francisco--Lori Hawkins and Brandon Brock--are hitting the road, taking a train from San Fran to D.C. for the 2013 PFLAG National Convention! You'll be able to read their updates here, and follow them on twitter with hashtags #1voice13 and #pflagxpress! 

Today, they introduce themselves!

Brandon Brock:
Hello! My name's Brandon and I'm nuts about PFLAG. I'm on the Board of Directors of PFLAG San Francisco and California's newest chapter, PFLAG Napa. 

I consider myself a PFLAG success story. When I was a kid, I was raised in small town Arkansas during the 1990s. The LGBT climate there wasn't exactly affirming for a young gay guy. This was before Will & Grace, Ellen Degeneres and the Internet of course, which makes a big difference.

One day, PFLAG crossed my path and it changed my life. I met a PFLAG Mom named Carolyn Wagner who drove over two hours in the pouring rain to meet up with me. She was my mother's age and I was her son's age and we talked for hours. For the first time, I was able to articulate my feelings with another person about being gay (at thirteen years old). 

There were so many questions and unknowns at that time that I couldn't go to my parents about being gay; it was too difficult. The fear of rejection, unfounded as it turned out, was too scary and my 13-year-old self couldn't face it. 

She taught me to embrace myself and helped me to understand my parents' perspective, which proved to be invaluable. Over time, my parents and I grew into understanding and we all learned a lot. My Mom and Dad always taught me to be proud of myself. Carolyn helped teach me to be proud of being gay.

Years later, I now live in The Castro neighborhood in San Francisco with my husband, Alexis Caloza, and our puppy, Mr. Humphries. Alex and I met when we were living in New York City and got married there in 2011 during the first week of same-sex marriages. Alex's family flew in from Florida and my family flew in from Arkansas and we were even featured in a national news feature on New York State's new marriage law on CBS. I was very active in the same-sex marriage push and lobbied politicians and became a volunteer community organizer. It was incredible to get married under the very law I pushed to create.

San Francisco is a great city but it's always fun to travel. Tomorrow, my pal, Lori, and I will board a train and head east towards Washington, DC for the PFLAG National Convention! We'll pass through the Rocky Mountains, through the famous "amber waves of grain",  through the Great Lakes region and finally the Northeast as we pull into Washington, DC's Central Station.

Along the way, we'll talk to other train passengers about those people in their life who changed their world. We've all had inspirational people in our lives and a long train trip is a great time to ponder. PFLAG has blossomed into an organization that welcomes straight allies, friends, and families in support of the entire LGBT spectrum of people and it all began with a single voice over 40 years ago.

I had three voices that changed my world: my Mom, my Dad and Carolyn Wagner. 

Over the next three days, we'll be covering our 2,800 mile trip towards Washington, DC and celebrate the unique insights and victories that PFLAG works towards: support, eduction and social activism for the equality of all people.

What could be more American?

Lori Hawkins:
I am a New York City born Chinese-American who graduated from Columbia University with a B.S. in Engineering and an MPH in Environmental Science. In 1987, I became a San Francisco Bay Area resident when I took a job as an engineer at Lockheed Space Systems. After spending 18 years at Lockheed, I went to Wells Capital Management where I spent 3 years as an analyst and short-term bond trader. Currently, I am a self-employed writer who writes gay romance novels and short stories. 

In 6th grade I learned about African American civil rights and I have been an advocate for minority rights ever since. As a product of a New York secular humanist up-bringing I have always accepted the LGBTQI community as my own and have lived in it as friend and sister. However, when Prop 8, a piece of legislation which wrote marriage discrimination into the California constitution, passed I felt that I needed to take tangible action and joined PFLAG. I am currently a member of the board for PFLAG San Francisco and the Regional Director for PFLAG Mid-Pacific region. 

Since joining PFLAG, I’ve seen a nearly unstoppable wave of change in attitude towards LGBTQI acceptance but I also know that there is much more work to be done and sometimes, I wonder; is my impression of progress correct? I also wonder about those people who live outside the Bay Area bubble; especially when I still encounter San Franciscan’s who don’t know about PFLAG, where are they in this wave of equality that seems to be spreading across the country? So, when the biannual PFLAG convention in Washington DC was announced, Brandon (whose bio is also featured here) and I thought it would be a great opportunity to meet people outside the bubble. 

On October 19, Brandon and I will travel by train from San Francisco to the convention in Washington, DC. Along the way, as we travel through America’s Heartland, we’ll be talking to people and raising awareness about PFLAG. 

Join us on our journey as we blog, post videos, and update our adventures!

Like our FB page: PFLAG San Francisco and follow #PFLAGXpress and #1Voice13 on Twitter to keep up with our adventures for the day.