Family boosters

The nation’s leading group of straight allies, PFLAG chapters can claim considerable grassroots success. But some members want more support from the struggling national office

BY Fred Kuhr

August 15 2005 12:00 AM ET

PFLAG was founded
in 1972 when Jeanne Manford decided to march with her
son Mortie in New York City’s pride parade. Angry
that her son had been assaulted at a gay rights rally
two months earlier while police did not attempt to
stop the beating, she carried a sign in the parade that read
parents of gays: unite in support for our children. The
first formal meeting took place in early 1973. Through
word of mouth PFLAG chapters sprung up around the
country, and in 1979 leaders from the different groups
met for the first time in Washington, D.C. PFLAG
didn’t hire its first executive director and
open its headquarters until 1990.

According to the
group’s Web site, PFLAG president Paulette Goodman
sent a letter to Barbara Bush in 1990 asking for Mrs.
Bush’s support. The first lady’s
personal reply stated, “I firmly believe that we
cannot tolerate discrimination against any individuals
or groups in our country. Such treatment always brings
with it pain and perpetuates intolerance.”
Inadvertently given to the Associated Press, her comments
caused much political controversy.

In the early
1990s, PFLAG chapters in Massachusetts helped pass the first
“safe schools” legislation in the country. In
1993, PFLAG added the word “Families” to
its name and added bisexuals to its mission and work. By
the mid 1990s a PFLAG family was responsible for the
Department of Education’s ruling that Title IX
protected students from harassment based on sexual
orientation.

During the past
14 years, Huckaby, 40, has served as executive director
of New Mexico AIDS Services, based in Albuquerque; Bering
Community Service Foundation, an HIV/AIDS service
group based in Houston; and most recently the
Washington Humane Society. Huckaby is a native of Eunice,
La., a town of 11,500 about 150 miles west of New Orleans
that bills itself as the state’s
“Prairie Cajun Capital.” Huckaby is the
seventh of eight children born to his Republican
Catholic parents. Not only is Huckaby gay; he has
three gay brothers.

“Having
been raised in a large family in a small town, I know the
challenges that families can face when coping with sexual
orientation and gender identity,” he says.
“My family didn’t have the resources of PFLAG
to help us back then.”

Given his humble
beginnings and experience in the nonprofit sector, it is
no surprise Huckaby feels at home at PFLAG. The group
occupies the fourth floor of a nondescript downtown
office building, and the offices are replete with
fluorescent lighting and dropped ceilings, stacks of storage
boxes and books everywhere, drab metal office furniture,
flat white walls, and drooping plants. PFLAG employs a
staff of 15. “When people come to see us for
the first time in our office, they always say that it
is much smaller than they thought it would be,” says
Huckaby.

For Kevin
Jennings, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, and
Straight Education Network, a civil rights group for
educators, PFLAG’s strength is its
members’ ability to speak honestly to others.

“You have
to meet people where they are, and PFLAG is able to meet
other parents where they are—around the
commonality of the love for one’s children and
the want of their children to live in a world free of
antigay discrimination,” says Jennings. “When
a PFLAG member speaks, they take it out of the
‘special rights’ context and into a very real
and personal context. No other organization can do
that quite like PFLAG.”

Still, given all
the time and effort, why do PFLAG volunteers continue to
do what they do? At the 2003 pride parade in Raleigh-Durham,
N.C., Miller, the regional director based in
Hendersonville, marched with the local PFLAG
contingent. He recalls that amid all the applause and the
tears, “one young man said to me, ‘I wish my
dad was out here.’ That makes it all
worthwhile.”

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