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Street to be named after PFLAG founder

Jeanne Manford, PFLAG, gay news, Washington Blade

Jeanne Manford (Photo courtesy of PFLAG)

FLUSHING, N.Y. – A New York City street on April 26 will be named in honor of the founder of PFLAG and her family.

Officials will formally name 171st Street between 33rd and 35th Avenues in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens “Jeanne, Jules, Morty Manford PFLAG Way.”

The family lived on the block in 1972 when Jeanne Manford marched with her son in the Christopher Street Liberation Day March – the precursor to New York’s annual LGBT Pride March. She, her husband and a handful of other parents held the first meeting of what became known as PFLAG less than a year later at a Greenwich Village church.

“The Manford family home was a safe space and shelter for many LGBT young people for 30 years, so it is a fitting tribute that the block on which it stands will be named for the family,” said PFLAG in a statement.

Jeanne Manford died at her California home in 2013. She was 92.


Jeanne Manford, PFLAG founder, dies at 92

Parents & Friends of Lesbians and Gays, PFLAG, Jeanne Manford, gay news, Washington Blade

Jeanne Manford (Photo courtesy of PFLAG)

Jeanne Manford, the founder of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), died Thursday at her home in Daly City, Calif. She was 92.

A native of New York City, Manford became an overnight leader of the fledgling “straight ally” movement in 1972 when she spoke out publicly in support of her gay activist son, who was attacked and beaten at a gay rights demonstration.

“I have a homosexual son and I love him,” she stated in a letter published in the New York Post on April 29, 1972.

A flurry of publicity generated by the letter and subsequent press interviews was taken a step further less than two months later when Manford marched with her son Morty Manford in New York’s second annual gay pride parade while carrying a sign that read, “Parents of Gays: Unite in Support for Our Children.”

“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,” said Jody M. Huckaby, PFLAG’s current executive director.

In a statement released from the group’s Washington, D.C. headquarters, Huckaby called Manford a pioneer and “mother” of the LGBT community’s straight ally movement.

Manford, an elementary school teacher and the wife of a dentist, organized what is believed to be the first meeting ever of a group of parents of gay people shortly after the 1972 gay pride parade, which was then called the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade.

“After many gay and lesbian people ran up to Jeanne during the parade and begged her to talk to their parents, she decided to begin a support group,” according to an article on PFLAG’s history posted on the group’s website.

“The first formal meeting took place in 1973 at a local church,” the article says. “About 20 people attended. In the next years, through word of mouth and community need, similar groups sprang up around the country, offering ‘safe havens’ and mutual support for parents with gay and lesbian children,” the article says.

The article says PFLAG added transgender people to its mission in 1998.

“All of us – people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and straight allies alike – owe Jeanne our gratitude,” Huckaby said in his statement. “We are all beneficiaries of her courage. Jeanne Manford proved the power of a single person to transform the world.”

In its statement, PFLAG says a private interment service would be held and details of a celebration of Manford’s life would be announced later.

“The family requests that any donations be made to the Jeanne Manford Legacy Fund to support the ongoing work of PFLAG National: 1828 L Street, N.W., Suite 660, Washington, D.C. 20036,” the statement says.


Obama awards Citizens Medal to PFLAG founder

Citizens Metal, Barack Obama, Jeanne Manford, Suzanne Manford Swan, gay news, Washington Blade, PFLAG

Suzanne Manford Swan receives the Presidential Citizens Medal on behalf of PFLAG founder Jeanne Manford (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Obama awarded the nation’s second-highest civilian honor on Friday to the recently deceased founder of Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays.

During a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Obama offered the Presidential Citizens Medal posthumously to PFLAG founder Jeanne Manford, who died last month at age 92. Accepting the award on Manford’s behalf was her daughter, Suzanne Manford Swan.

Prior to presenting the award, Obama recounted the story of how Manford founded PFLAG out of love for her gay son, Morty Manford, who came home beaten after participating in a gay rights march.

“This was back in 1972,” Obama said. “There was a lot of hate, a lot of vitriol toward gays and lesbians and anyone who supported them.  But instead, she wrote to the local newspaper and took to the streets with a simple message:  No matter who her son was — no matter who he loved — she loved him, and wouldn’t put up with this kind of nonsense.”

Obama added with “that simple act,” Manford helped give rise to a national organization “that has given so much support to parents and families and friends, and helped to change this country.”

Speaking generally about the 13 awardees of the medal this year, Obama said the work these individuals have done is important because a sense of citizenship binds a country as diverse as the United States.

“In America, we have the benefit of living in this big and diverse nation,” Obama said. “We’re home to 315 million people who come from every background, who worship every faith, who hold every single point of view. But what binds us together, what unites us is a single sacred word: ‘citizen.’”

Following the ceremony, Swan, a San Francisco resident, told the Washington Blade during the ceremony she was thinking about future generations who won’t know prejudice against LGBT people thanks to the work of her mother.

“My granddaughter will grow up knowing nothing but love and respect because people are different,” Swan said. “It won’t matter if they’re left-handed, whether they’re homosexual, whether they’re any color. My mother believed that homosexuality was put in the same category. She liked people, and she thought that everybody deserved their civil rights.”

Asked by another reporter how Manford would have felt upon hearing Obama’s inaugural speech and his references to the Stonewall demonstrations and equal rights for gay people, Swan said her mother “would have been thrilled” and noted the progress that PFLAG has seen over the decades.

“The early meetings may have had two people, may have had 20 people,” Swan added. “If they had any, they were happy because they were helping somebody, and that has gotten to be this big. So many people, everyplace I go, people know PFLAG.”

Swan told reporters Manford was informed before she died that she may receive the medal, but didn’t live long enough to come to the White House for the ceremony.

“My mother learned of his award — that it was possibly going to happen, but didn’t know — soon before she died,” Swan said. “She smiled. She couldn’t even talk, but she knew what it meant, and it was very important to her.”

It’s not the first time President Obama has awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal to an LGBT activist. In October 2011, Obama presented the award to lesbian activist Janice Langbehn, a lesbian who was unable to visit her partner Lisa Pond as she died in a Florida hospital and whose activism led Obama to issue a memorandum requiring hospitals receiving Medicare and Medicaid funds to grant visitation rights to same-sex partners.

Jody Huckaby, PFLAG National’s executive director, called the awarding of the Citizens Medal “an extraordinary and unprecedented honor” for not only Manford but “her family, and PFLAG members and supporters everywhere.”

“The message is powerful: the voices of parents, family members, friends and straight allies, united with the voice of LGBT people, is critical to the advancement of acceptance and equality,” Huckaby said.