In the early 1980s, David Holladay was a 16-year-old living in a small town in Oklahoma, grappling with the fear and uncertainty that came with being a gay teenager in a time when homosexuality was largely stigmatized and misunderstood. But unbeknownst to him, a movement was brewing that would soon offer hope and support not just to LGBTQ individuals like him, but to their families as well. This was the dawn of PFLAG, America’s first LGBTQ ally organization, which started with one mom’s bold and loving act of solidarity.
Jeanne Manford, an elementary school teacher from Queens, New York, marched alongside her gay son Morty in the 1972 Christopher Street Liberation Day parade, holding a sign that read, “Parents of Gays: Unite in Support for Our Children.” The response from the LGBTQ community was overwhelming, and Manford soon founded what would become PFLAG with her son. In its early days, PFLAG offered a safe space for parents of LGBTQ children to come together and support one another, and to educate themselves about the experiences and challenges their children faced.
Today, PFLAG has grown to include over 400 chapters across the United States, with more than 200,000 members. At its 50th anniversary gala in New York City, attendees celebrated the organization’s decades of advocacy and support, as well as its continued commitment to the work that still needs to be done.
For LGBTQ youth who do not have supportive families, organizations like PFLAG can be a lifeline. Many LGBTQ individuals still fear rejection from their parents, and are at a higher risk for homelessness and suicide as a result. However, studies have shown that having just one supportive adult in their lives can make a significant difference for LGBTQ youth.
Jeanne Manford’s activism was sparked by an incident in which her son Morty was beaten by police officers and arrested for protesting a homophobic group. Her refusal to be intimidated by the police officer’s attempts to shame her for her son’s sexuality helped to pave the way for a movement of allies who stand proudly beside their LGBTQ loved ones.
David Holladay’s parents were also among those who answered the call to be allies. They formed a local PFLAG chapter in Norman, Oklahoma, in 1994, and have continued to advocate for LGBTQ rights in their state. Their story is just one of many that demonstrates the power of allyship, and the profound impact it can have on the lives of LGBTQ individuals and their families.