Has PFLAG Outlived Our Purpose?

“One day, our society will accept all its members as equals, regardless of their sexual orientation or their sexual identity. Until that day, there is PFLAG”.

A board member, during a recent fundraising effort, was told by a member that she thought we at PFLAG had outlived the purpose of our existence. Personally I found this to be encouraging, because knowing the above motto I was thrilled that the time had come for that to be true. Then, I opened my eyes.

As recently as last night, after a PFLAG presentation at Northern Virginia Community College, I spoke with several young people in the midst of turmoil with their parents, for the sole reason that the same people that brought them into this world just cannot accept or even tolerate the fact that their child is gay.  Unfortunately, when you put yourself in the forefront of the issue, you recognize that this is quite common.  At the same meeting, I spoke with an accepting mother who needs help in dealing with her parents, who believe that the “sins” of their lesbian granddaughter will result in eternal damnation. 

Why is it, if society is so accepting these days that I get repeated requests from businesses to address their leadership about the positives that can come from hiring and giving equal treatment to gay employees?  That would be unusual except for the fact that in 29 states in our country, including where I sit, it’s completely legal to fire someone because they are gay. At each one of these “Equality in the Workforce” meetings, I still hear comments like “maybe they should just keep their orientation to themselves”.  I don’t know about you, but when I’m at work, I chat at times, and that includes subjects of the highest importance to me, like my wife and kids. Shouldn’t a gay colleague feel comfortable talking about his or her partner? Is it an accepting society where you just “keep it to yourself”?

Thankfully some of the Federal government agencies are required to hold diversity clinics, in which I often participate.  In those meetings though, the same sort of comments still arise.  The old saying that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink comes to mind.  I promise I’ll keep plugging though, if they keep asking me to show up.

In Alexandria, a stone’s throw from our nations’ capital, I had a pastor of an African American church ask for help when the church leadership wanted to kick out a 32 year old, lifelong choir member because he was coming to church in women’s clothes. As it turns out he was transitioning, and thank goodness this pastor felt it was wrong to remove him from his “church family” and so he reached out to PFLAG to talk to the leadership.

Why do I spend time speaking to schools about the effects of bullying, which clearly has reached levels unheard of when I was in school?  Part of the reason might be that in my day, I wasn’t cognizant of anyone being gay in my school. (Reliable statistics tell me there were at least 96-100 at any given time. I don’t know who they were, and it really doesn’t matter, but pure statistics say it’s true.) Is the measurable increase in injurious bullying due to the fact that many kids come out earlier?  The average age of coming out is 13 years of age today.  (In 1975, that number was 26!  Yes, twenty six. No wonder I didn’t know who “they” were.)  Could it be with more kids “out” today, the bullies have more targets? I’m not sure. One fact I do know is that 8 out of 10 teen suicides are committed by kids who have reported being bullied. A gay teen is 300 percent more likely to kill themselves than their straight counterparts. If those numbers aren’t shocking to you, you aren’t breathing.

Sometimes, members of the GLBT community find themselves afoul of the law.  Other times it’s their family members in that predicament.  But when Arlington and Fairfax County Judicial systems wanted a clinic to better understand how to better deal with these people, who was it that showed up to do a diversity clinic?  I think you know the answer.

Earlier this month I was a speaker at the 11th Annual Interdisciplinary Conference for the Family Court of the DC Superior Court. Much of the focus was the fact that too many displaced youth are placed in homes where they are ultimately abused or turned away because, you guessed it, the child is gay.  What groups would the court turn to speak to an issue like this?  I believe my involvement speaks for itself. I wasn’t there as a private citizen.  I represented PFLAG.

Only six states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage and the federal government recognizes none of them because of the Defense of Marriage Act. Until the day DOMA is repealed, we are not even close to having marriage equality. In a matter of days, referendums will be voted on in four states, including Maryland, to either allow or repeal marriage equality.  As we all know, despite the fact that we are all “created equal”, a few feel that it’s necessary to vote on whether that is really true. The Maryland Marriage Coalition, is a group working hard to see that this vote, (which wouldn’t be necessary if individual liberties were properly protected), turns out the correct way. That coalition includes who you say? Oh, that’s Metro DC PFLAG on that list!

When lobbying is needed with our congressional leaders, to put a straight parents’ perspective on a gay rights issue on Capitol Hill, which organization takes on that role?  Where do you think a Senator or Representative comes for research prior to presenting or voting on a bill? Their constituency? No, PFLAG.

When virtually any touchstone gay rights issue hits the news, my PFLAG colleague, David Fishback, our Advocacy Chair, is there to debate whoever is on the other side of the issue. If you’ve ever seen him debate on television, you know that we could not be in better hands.  Would that really be necessary if society was accepting? 

Is it necessary to have 16 or 17 support groups to help with the coming out process for not only gay young people, but also their families?  Is it necessary to operate a telephone helpline so that someone in need of help can actually obtain that help?  Do we really need to offer a list of vetted therapists so that a well-meaning parent doesn’t send their gay child to a practitioner of reparative or curative therapy, causing irreparable harm?

It’s my guess, fair or not, that someone who thinks PFLAG has outlived our purpose might believe that’s true because we no longer have an annual gala so we can pat ourselves on the back.  We’re much leaner these days for the very reason that funds are down while our programming continues to grow.  As much as I would love to have a huge party and run my mouth at a black tie event, I know we can’t afford it.  We have serious work to do, and we do it free of charge. We’ll give away valuable and informative literature and our speakers’ bureau will continue to show up on a volunteer basis any time we have the manpower and resources to perform, and guess what.  We’ll continue to do that work until society accepts all its members as equals, regardless of their sexual orientation or their sexual identity.

Phil Hicks-October 17, 2012

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About MetroDC PFLAG

Our Mission:Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays promotes the equality and well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons, their families and friends through: Support to cope with an adverse society Education to enlighten an ill-informed public Advocacy to end discrimination.
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