The non-profit organization Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), began because of a mother’s righteous anger over the way her gay son had been treated.
In 1972, New Yorker Jeanne Manford was appalled when her son, Morty, was beaten at a gay rights protest while police looked on.
Two months later, Manford marched with Morty in a gay pride parade in the city carrying a sign reading, “Parents of Gays: Unite in Support of Our Children.”
Manford also founded the group later called PFLAG, and a national grassroots movement to press for equal treatment of gay and lesbian citizens was born.
That movement is represented in the Magic City by PFLAG Birmingham, a non-profit founded in 1994.
Among other programs, including advocacy and outreach on behalf of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) community, PFLAG is perhaps best known for its monthly peer-to-peer support groups.
The meetings help gays and lesbians come to terms with their sexual identities, as well as helping them maintain and strengthen their relationships with their families while they go through the difficult process of coming out.
“A large number of people who come to us are parents struggling with kids coming out,” Patty Rudolph, PFLAG Birmingham board chair, told Weld Local. “We have GLBT adults who have never come out. We have people who were disowned.”
To support these and other programs, the all-volunteer organization hosts an annual fundraiser. This year, PFLAG Birmingham will host a screening of the new documentary film, Love Free or Die, which chronicles the life and work of Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. The screening – part of the official schedule for Central Alabama Pride Week – will take place on June 6 at The Edge 12 movie theatres in Crestwood.
Love Free or Die, made by filmmaker Macky Alston, an Auburn, Ala., native, won the Special Jury Prize for Documentary at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
Alston has made five films and also won an award at Sundance in 1997 for the documentary, Family Name, in which he investigated his family’s slave-holding past.
Robinson received worldwide media attention and even death threats when he became bishop in 2003, according to the Love Free or Die web site.
Alston felt that he was uniquely positioned to tell Robinson’s story, since he is not only a gay man but someone whose father and grandfather were both Presbyterian ministers.
“I think this was the movie I was I born to make,” Alston told Weld. “It deals with the way people make sense of my humanity, and for a lot of people, they do that through a Christian lens, whether I like it or not. It focuses on the story of Bishop Robinson, who is unashamedly Christian and unashamedly gay. My family members and so many Americans recognize that there is no conflict between being gay and being Christian. We are called as Christians to love every neighbor.”
As part of its advocacy efforts, PFLAG tries to break through the lies and distortions in our society that help create a pervasive suspicion, even hatred, of gays and lesbians — the kind of hatred directed at Robinson.
The group, Rudolph said, “offers information to the general public to let people know that the GLBT community does not really fall into the common myths and stereotypes that a lot of people have grown upon with.
“We are putting names and faces on gay, lesbian, bisexual [and] transgender people, on your friends, your family, your co-workers, your neighbors, so that people can come to understand that gay and lesbian people are just like everyone else,” Rudolph said. “They work. They pay their taxes. And they deserve… full and complete equal rights just like everyone else.”
Many people have an overly reductive view of what it means to be gay, according to PFLAG Birmingham board member Sandi Taylor. “To be honest, I think a lot of people think being gay is only about sex,” she said. “Some people say people should be able to sleep with who they want to, or [that] the Bible says you shouldn’t. I think the biggest misconception is that that’s all it’s about, when in truth, it’s about the same things that all of us want, to be loved and have companionship and affection, you know, be with somebody that you feel that kind of commitment and attachment to. It’s about the same thing that heterosexual people want and desire in a relationship.”
One of the expenses PFLAG is raising money to cover is the purchase of updated educational supplies. PFLAG provides information about the group itself, as well as lots of other specialized resources – for example, information for children coming out to their parents, or parents whose kids have come out, or transgendered people.
Many of the attendees at the monthly meetings use these materials. “Those are the people who are really struggling with acceptance of themselves, self-acceptance or [the acceptance] of a loved one,” Rudolph said. “We try to educate those people and help them educate themselves about what it means to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender.”
PFLAG also travels to other workshops around the state where these materials come in handy. “Every bit of money we get goes into funding our educational outreach programs,” Rudolph said. “We participate in and serve on the steering committee of the Alabama Safe Schools Coalition. We go around [the state] to do workshops on bullying in schools [and] the consequences of that as it relates to sexual orientation and gender identity.”
It was Sandi Taylor’s son, Dallas Taylor, a member of the group and a student at Birmingham Southern, who had the idea to show Love Free or Die in Birmingham. Dallas, who is gay and came out to his mom when he was 13 years old, saw Love Free or Die at Sundance in January and met Robinson after the screening. He was moved by the documentary and immediately sent a text to his mom, who is a PFLAG board member, suggesting that the group show the film in Birmingham.
Dallas told Weld that the film “showed not only a gay man, but also this man being a gay minister and having to face opposition, not just in the general world, but also in his own community and his own family, for that matter, and I think for those of us who are in that [GLBT] community, it’s something that we can all definitely relate to.”
He added, “It’s about the relationship between faith and the LGBT community.”
Dallas was intrigued by this aspect of the film because he and his mom moved from Utah to Alabama and found that this state is, to say the least, very religious.
“Neither one of us is particularly religious,” Sandi told Weld. “Seeing the film… where somebody is not only religious, but Bishop Robinson being the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, I think that’s what appealed to [Dallas], the connection between religion and gay rights.”
The religious aspect is something PFLAG keeps in mind in working with groups, according to Sandi. “We have lists of affirming and accepting churches and of support meetings,” she said. “That is frequently a concern of the parents or family members who come who are very religious and, you know, are trying to get their head around ‘How do I remain faithful to my church and earn to accept this thing that my child has just told me about themselves?’”
Dallas began attending PFLAG meetings when he was 13 and found it to be a valuable resource but also just enjoyed watching the way the group works and the way people grow.
“I think the thing about PFLAG that I really loved is you get people in process,” he said. “They haven’t necessarily come to terms with everything. Some have. It’s cool to see the people travel the process of finding out one’s gay and then their process to acceptance, eventually.”
PFLAG will screen the documentary film, Love Free or Die, Wednesday, June 6, at The Edge Theaters, 7001 Crestwood Blvd. Wine and hors d’oeuvres will be served at 6:45 p.m.; the film will begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance and $23 at the door. To purchase tickets, go to http://pflagbham.org. For more about the film, go to http://lovefreeordiemovie.com.
PFLAG Birmingham meets the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m., at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham, 4300 Hampton Heigh ts Drive. The next meeting will be on Tuesday, June 12.
Jesse Chambers is the editor of Weld Local and the managing editor of Weld for Birmingham. Send your feedback to email@example.com.