Like many family histories, that of Parents, Families And Friends Of Lesbians And Gays (PFLAG) is a little complicated.
In 1972 New York’s Jeanne Manford saw a newscast of her son Morty being beaten at a gay rights demo while the police did nothing. Two months later she marched with Morty in New York City’s Pride Parade carrying a sign reading, “Parents of gays: unite in support for our children.” Encountering both cheers from the sidelines and people physically running into the parade to hug her and ask her to speak to their parents, she realized that there was a need for a support network for parents of queers.
She and her husband, Jules Manford, formed the New York City Parents Of Gays in March 1973. Twenty people attended that first meeting and it became the catalyst for the PFLAG movement, both in the US and around the world. Today there are PFLAG chapters in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland and the UK.
Back home in Canada, a group known as Parents Of Gays (POG) began meeting in the late 1970s. In 1981 POG amalgamated with Families And Friends Of Lesbians And Gays (FFLAG) and became Parents And Friends Of Lesbians And Gays (Parents FLAG), not knowing of the US movement of the same name.
In 1985 Mary Jones of Brantford had her name listed as a contact in the mainstream women’s magazine Chatelaine as a representative of the Toronto/ Mississauga/Brampton chapter of Parents FLAG. The next year she and her husband Laurie held the inaugural meeting of said chapter in their home in Brampton. The Jones are considered by some to be the godparents of the Canadian PFLAG movement.
Soon chapters of Parents FLAG were springing up across the country including Vancouver (1989), North Toronto (1991; which later became the Toronto chapter), Winnipeg (1992) and Halifax (1994). Today there are more than 60 chapters and contacts throughout the country.
But Parents FLAG — which became Parents, Families And Friends Of Lesbians And Gays (PFLAG) and, finally in 2003 abandoned the acronym to become simply Pflag Canada — is not just a group for those in need of understanding queers, but also a support for queers themselves. Particularly on the east coast, PFLAG Canada chapter meetings have a higher percentage of homos attending than they do parents or allies.
Former Pflag Canada president Eldon Hay estimates that in Sackville, New Brunswick 80 to 90 percent of attendees identify as queer or trans.
“I remember one guy who said, ‘Thank God for PFLAG because for two hours a month I can be who I want to be,'” says Hay. “That’s a terrible statement but thank God he can do that for two hours.”