PFLAG Founder Dies at 92
The founder of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, which has grown to become a leading force in the LGBT community died on Tuesday.
Jeanne Manford died at the age of 92 in her home in Daly City, Calif. Manford, a former elementary school teacher from Flushing, N.Y., was inspired to start PFLAG in 1972 after her son Morty Manford was beaten during a Gay Activists Alliance demonstration. According to PFLAG’s website Manford "was one of the fiercest fighters in the battle for acceptance and equality for [LGBT] people. It is truly humbling to imagine in 1972 - just 40 years ago - a simple schoolteacher started this movement of family and ally support, without benefit of any of the technology that today makes a grassroots movement so easy to organize."
As the New York Daily News reported, President Barack Obama applauded Manford’s work during a Human Rights Campaign dinner in 2009. "That’s the story of America, of ordinary citizens organizing, agitating and advocating for change," Obama said. "Of hope stronger than hate, of love more powerful than any insult or injury."
After her son’s beating, she was angered by the failure of police response to the incident. In a letter to the New York Post, she wrote, "I have a homosexual son and I love him." After that, she gave media interviews in several cities.
Morty Manford, who one of those at the 1969 raid at the Stonewall Inn, which inspired the modern gay rights movement, was so moved by his mother’s actions that he invited her to walk with him in New York’s Gay march that year. In 1991, Manford served as grand marshall of New York’s Pride March.
Manford walked proudly by her son and held a sign that read "Parents of Gays: Unite in Support of Our Children." This was at a time when most parents at best were quiet about their LGBT children, and many shunned them.
Manford’s message brought together the LGBT community and its straight allies. Her action inspired parents to join her side and 20 people attended the first PFLAG meeting held in 1973.
As PFLAG noted on its website, "This simple and powerful message of love and acceptance from one person resonated so strongly it was heard by millions of people worldwide and led to the founding of PFLAG, an organization with more than 350 chapters across the U.S. and 200,000 members and supporters, and the creation of similar organizations across the globe."
In 1992, Manford’s son lost his battle to AIDS. But she continued her fight for LGBT rights. About a year after he died, Manford walked in a Queens Pride march with Daniel Dromm, who helped create the Queens chapter of PFLAG in 1993 and eventually became a New York City councilman.
"Jeanne was the epitome of what it meant to have unconditional love for your son," Dromm told the Daily News. "That was radical in those days. She was a parent to all gay people." Dromm has called her "the Rosa Parks of the gay and lesbian movement."
Jody Huckaby, PFLAG’s current national executive director, called Manford the the "mother of the straight ally movement. We are all beneficiaries of her courage," Huckaby said in a statement. "Jeanne Manford proved the power of a single person to transform the world."
According to her daughter Suzanne Swan, her health had been deteriorating for awhile before her death. "I will miss my mother tremendously," Swan said. "She is known to thousands of people as the mother of the straight ally movement, but to me, she was my mother. She was someone who would always do the right thing, the good thing."