A panel discussion with PFLAG members: Formerly Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays
Mitzi Henderson, Past National PFLAG President
Rosemary Malvey, PFLAG Speaker's Bureau (Parent)
Joyce Miller, Straight Spouse Support Group
Windsor Smith, PFLAG San Jose Vice President
Moderated by Cynthia Chin-Lee, OPEN Ally team lead
The event is hosted by Oracle's OPEN group (Oracle Pride Employee Network), a resource for gay, lesbian, transgender, queer and questioning employees.
Cynthia Chin-Lee published a book about Prop 8 called Operation Marriage five years ago, which was since made into a movie!
Having allies is important, and Oracle is a big ally for their employees. In some US states, you can still be fired for being a homosexual, in some countries you can be killed.
Mitzi Henderson was distressed when she discovered that her church, and other churches, would not provide pastoral services around gay and lesbian issues, which drove her to get involved with PFLAG.
Joyce Miller is a retired nurse and grief counselor, she is a member of the straight spouse support group. Some people were celebrating their gay and lesbian children, but discovered it wasn't always a shared emotion across both parents, which inspired her to get involved in the straight spouse group.
Rosemary Malvey volunteers for Mission Hospice, 12 step programs, and PLFAG. When her son came out to her, she was full of supportive words, but she was full of trepidition about his health, job prospects and safety.
Windsor Smith attended the Robert E. Lee high school (home of the rebels), and later came out to all of his family and friends in one fell swoop, and quickly learned about various support groups.
Mitzi recalls a terrible story about a gay man arrested in NYC that was arrested and beaten by police just before the gay pride parade, so his mother marched in the parade with a sign asking parents to support their gay children. She started a support group in NYC, then reached out to other groups and formed a national organization, PFLAG. They wanted rules that the groups could not be exclusive - ie only for one religion, only for people with gay sons, etc. It's important for parents to be proud of their children, no matter what their sexual orientation is.
Mitzi had a chance to go to congress to testify on the national issues facing their children to subcommittees in congress. Other research showed that many states had even more restrictive laws than the federal government., and PLFAG is trying to work on this.
When Joyce's son came out to her, when he had finished college and was living abroad, he was very careful to right away to tell her that it was nothing she had done and that it had nothing to do with her recent divorce from his father. She was concerned about AIDS, at that time it was an out of control epidemic. She found a lot of support from the other parents in PFLAG. She had been sending her son packages full of pamphlets about AIDS, but she found out that was not going to help her continue to build her relationship with her son. Her son is now 55 years old and recently married to his partner of 15 years.
Joyce used to handle the hotline phone line for PFLAG for the Bay Area. She had been getting calls from people who had discovered their husband or wife was actually gay or lesbian. The straight spouse goes through very different issues than a parent of a gay or lesbian child. The straight spouse support group doesn't have many "long timers" as it were, as they get their needed healing, they can move on.
Rosemary Malvey has been a PFLAG member for nearly 20 years - she had never heard of PFLAG until she needed PFLAG. When her son came out to her, he did it by telling her that he was in love and happier than he's ever been. She was happy he shared this with her, and was very supportive while she was visiting him. But, after she left, she cried the entire flight home. She worried about her son suffering for his sexual orientation both socially and in his career. Fortunately, a friend pointed her to PFLAG and told her "it's no big deal" and to get over it.
Rosemary's daughter didn't realize she was a lesbian until she was 35! Finally, many pieces of her life have fallen into place, and she was finally happy!
Windsor Smith likes being involved with PFLAG and wants people know that they also welcome gay, lesbian and transgender members - not only parents.
A question from the audience: is there a place for siblings to go for support? Resounding answer: PGLAG! Open to all.
A great question about pronouns if your child comes out as transgender. There are many clever pronouns, like "they" in the singular sense, and many other options (zhe/zer/etc). But, the best way is to ask what pronouns the individual prefers. Some people, including Windsor, put their preferred pronouns in their email signature.
Another question about differing cultural issues - coming out in a conservative culture (religion, ethnicity, etc). If your parents cannot accept you or come to PFLAG, Rosemary still encourages you to go to PFLAG yourself and find a surrogate accepting parent.
PFLAG is a great place to find allies of all sorts. Many of our loved ones are biased, and it's good to challenge them when you can and know you can find an ally.
For younger folks, most junior highs, high schools and colleges have support groups specifically for youths.
At the end of the day, PFLAG is an excellent resource for parents and anyone with questions. If they aren't the right place, they will likely know the direction to point you.
This event was additionally put on to raise money for Equity Florida, the group that has helped many victims of the Orlando shooting. If you can, please consider donating.