BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — "Jeanne was one of the fiercest fighters in the battle for acceptance and equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people," PFLAG National's executive director, Jody M Huckaby, said following the Jan 8 death of the pioneering straight ally and the organization's founder.
Jeanne Manford died at 92 at her home in Daly City, California.
Born in Flushing, Queens, New York, Manford had three children: Charles (who died in 1966), Morty (who died in 1992) and Suzanne (who survives her). "It was her outspoken support of Morty during a gay rights march in New York in 1972 that led Manford on a 40‐year journey of outspoken activism for equal rights for LGBT people," LGBTQNation reports.
Manford became an activist after police didn't intervene while her son was kicked and beaten during a Gay Activists Alliance demonstration, writing a letter to the editor of the New York Post to express her outrage. "I have a homosexual son and I love him,” she wrote in the letter that "sparked much public response and drew attention to violence against gays," according to LGBTQNation.
Armed with a placard that read "Parents of Gays: Unite in Support of Our Children," Manford marched in the 1972 Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade, the precursor to NYC Gay Pride. Her presence attracted the attention of other parade participants who went up to her to express their gratitude for taking part and asked her to speak with their parents.
Incidents like these convinced the Manford family that there was a need for a group, which they accordingly formed. Initially called Parents of Gays, the name was eventually changed to Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).
"It is truly humbling to imagine that in 1972 — just 40 years ago — a simple school teacher 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," PFLAG's Huckaby said in a statement. "No internet, no cellphones. Just a deep love for her son."
Huckaby says the "simple and powerful message of love and acceptance" from one person has resonated strongly. Now an international organization, PFLAG has more than 350 chapters in the United States, 200,000 members and supporters, and is connected to similar organizations worldwide.
"We are all beneficiaries of her courage," Huckaby adds. "She paved the way for us to speak out for what is right, uniting the unique parent, family and ally voice with the voice of LGBT people everywhere."
“I will miss my mother tremendously,” Manford's daughter Suzanne Swan says. “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. She supported all people, and that meant so much to us growing up.”
Here is an excerpt of CNN's coverage of a speech by American President Barack Obama in which he called Manford's work "the story of America."
Landing image: Courtesy of PFLAG National