As I cheered on the women marching in last year’s Dyke March, I noticed that the man standing in front of me was holding a sign that read “Proud of my daughter.” It was quite touching, and the response he received from the marchers and other spectators was overwhelming; several women ran out of the Dyke March to give him a hug.
It reminded me of my second Pride in 1990 when I was approached by a woman who identified herself as being a member of Parents, Families And Friends Of Lesbians And Gays (PFLAG). She asked if she could give me a hug. I had only just come out to my parents a few months earlier, and hadn’t spoken to them, other than to exchange some nasty letters. Receiving that PFLAG hug was very fulfilling.
I watched as this woman approached others with greetings and hugs. Everyone left with smiles on their faces, obviously touched by this small gesture of compassion.
Since its confluent beginnings in the 1970s (see sidebar) Pflag has been a place for parents to turn to if they’re experiencing confusion, anger or fear at their child’s coming out.
In recognition of more than two decades of helping parents to accept their queer kids, PFLAG Toronto has been chosen as this year’s honoured group at Pride.
“PFLAG is just an amazing grassroots organization,” says Pride Toronto cochair Lenore MacAdam. “They’ve been supporting education and advocating for acceptance. They’re just a fantastic group and represent everything that Pride Toronto stands for: diversity, tolerance and acceptance.”
“PFLAG Toronto does amazing work in two key areas,” says Brent Hawkes, pastor at Metropolitan Community Church Of Toronto, where the group has its office. “First is the support they give to the families and friends of those who have newly discovered their loved ones are GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans]. This peer-to-peer support has helped many families become more accepting and open to their GLBT members.
“Second, they have been a prominent voice in the GLBT movement for equality. They have contributed in every way possible and significantly helped to put the GLBT rights movement to the forefront of social rights. Their activism is truly extraordinary.”
“We’re honoured to be selected as the honoured group this year and it will help us to get the message out to an even larger population that might be struggling with issues in regards to coming out,” says Duncan Minnis, PFLAG Toronto’s executive director.
As the honoured group PFLAG Toronto will be leading the Pride Parade on Sun, Jun 24.
“The theme that we’re portraying as our group this year as we’re walking is family reunion — bringing and keeping families together,” says Minnis.
Margaret Noseworthy is an active PFLAG member and past Toronto chapter president. When her daughter came out to her in 1990 at the age of 28 Margaret found it difficult to accept.
“[My daughter] spent the next six months, just about every day, helping me to try to understand and lessen the hurt,” says Noseworthy. “Then she said, ‘Mom, you’re never going to get it,’ and I thought, ‘Oh boy, I am going to lose her.'”
Around that time Noseworthy saw an ad for PFLAG in the Toronto Star. She says she went to a meeting “expecting to have some sympathy and people crying all over the place and that’s not the way it happened. Bit by bit I went to these meetings and listened to other people and it didn’t matter what nationality or religion — they seemed to have the same problems accepting their homosexual child.
“These children try so hard to help their parents understand and they don’t want to hurt us…. I started to gradually understand what they go through.”
In addition to the support that PFLAG members provide to individual families, members also partake in public awareness campaigns around the impacts of homophobia.
“When I worked with others to confront homophobia in Toronto schools and to establish initiatives such as the Triangle Program [Canada’s only classroom for queer high-school students], it was PFLAG members, speaking along with LGBT students, who made the most powerful impact on my fellow trustees and board administrators,” says former Toronto District School Board trustee John Campey. “They literally compelled the Toronto Board Of Education to act to support ‘their’ kids.”
Most recently the Toronto PFLAG chapter took part in Champions Against Homophobia, a national campaign to recognize people who have been an inspiration for others by confronting homophobia or transphobia.
The impact PFLAG has had on queer kids through the years has also been profound.
“I came out of the closet in high school at age 16 and created a parallel gay life outside of the one expected of me from my parents,” says Kristyn Wong-Tam. “Since PFLAGs conduct all their meetings in English, I knew that my parents would not be able to fully integrate… because of linguistic barriers. However, just knowing that a group like PFLAG existed gave me a sense of hope that if other lesbian and gay kids had supportive parents, then perhaps mine would still love me if I told them the truth.
“For me, PFLAG symbolizes the real meaning of love, acceptance and celebration from our straight allies,” adds Wong-Tam, “especially from those whom I cherish the most, namely my parents.”