Pride, parents and cheers

By Janice Thom, Director of Operations for Development, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

Jeanne Manford, who died on Jan. 8, was truly one of our movement’s foremothers. A mother’s love for her son was the fuel that created an organization and made so many families whole.

741223_10151225517734562_467525168_oMs. Manford watched the world treat her gay son as less-than and simply wouldn’t put up with it. When Morty was beaten during a 1972 Gay Activists Alliance demonstration here in NY, the police did nothing. Jeanne wrote a letter to the New York Post, saying “I have a homosexual son and I love him.” And then, in her living room in Queens, she founded Parents & Friends of Lesbians & Gay – PFLAG.

Morty, a gay activist himself, invited her to march with him in June’s Pride March. And what happened that June has happened every June ever after. LGBT people of all ages left the sidewalk and approached Jeanne and the growing contingent of PFLAG parents, often in tears. After all, everyone is someone’s child. People in their teens and in their 50’s screamed their approval from the sidewalk. The desire to be loved by the people who raised you was so strong it nearly levitated the crowd.

All these years later, this is still true. Families still reject their queer children and the wounds of that not-loving last a lifetime. And, each June at Pride marches all over the country, the mothers and fathers who march behind the PFLAG banner get the loudest applause, the most emotional response from the children of all ages standing on the sidewalk. Grown people jump the barricades for a hug from a complete grey-haired stranger. Some of us were lucky enough to have someone just like Jeanne Manford for a parent. Judging from the crowd’s response and the outpouring at her death, too many of us aren’t that fortunate.