50 Years of Leading with Love
For fifty years, PFLAG has been where LGBTQ+ people, families, and allies have come together in pursuit of justice and affirmation—and always leading with love.
What began as a letter led to a march, which launched a meeting and birthed a movement of millions.
Since our earliest days, PFLAG has been the connector for LGBTQ+ people with community, parents with resources, and allies with tools, bolstering the LGBTQ+ movement with strength, power, and love.
April 29, 1972: "A Fair Chance"
Morty Manford helped found the Gay Activists Alliance, becoming becoming its president. It was in that role that Morty and others led a variety of protests, including one in 1972 at the 50th annual Inner Circle dinner, an event at the Hilton Hotel attended by reporters, which included dinner, celebration—and the performance of anti-LGBTQ+ skits and satire.
At the event, Morty and others participated in a “zap,” a form of direct activism popularized by the GAA. The zap was intended to gain attention for a city gay-rights law that the GAA wanted passed. The GAA distributed leaflets and seized the stage in an attempt to highlight the law, which the mainstream media was all but ignoring. When the GAA was ejected, a fight broke out. Michael Maye, president of New York City’s Uniformed Firefighters Assn., vehemently opposed the law. At the dinner, he beat Morty, with witnesses stating that they saw Maye throw Morty down an escalator, kicking and stomping him. Maye was acquitted of the assault; the law finally passed years later.
This April 15, 1972 event garnered some of the equality movement’s best media coverage and drew attention to anti-LGBTQ+ violence. It also inspired Morty's mother, Jeanne. “I was furious,” Jeanne recalled to historian Eric Marcus. “I’m not the type of person who belonged to organizations. I never tried to do anything. But I wasn’t going to let anybody walk over Morty.”
Jeanne put pen to paper and wrote a letter, entitled "A Fair Chance" to the New York Post expressing her outrage at the incident; no parent had ever written such a letter before that was published in a major newspaper.”
The letter created a sensation.
June 25, 1972: A Mother Marches
Not long after her letter was published, Morty asked Jeanne to march with him at the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, which would take place a few months later on June 25, 1972. She agreed, as long as she could carry a sign that explained why she was there and marching.
Historian Eric Marcus says, “Looking back on her work as an activist, Jeanne didn’t think of herself as a radical or revolutionary. But others did.”
In an interview with Marcus, Morty said, “There was a calendar that somebody published, which I picked up over on St. Mark’s Place that next year. For each month it had a picture marking some occasion. For example…there was a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr., during this birthday month. And for June, guess who the calendar girl was?” Jeanne said, in the same interview, “Before Morty turned to June, I said, ‘This is not a true revolutionary calendar unless there is something about the gay march—about gays—for the month of June.’ And then when I turned the page, there was my picture. The irony, of course, is that I considered myself such a traditional person. I didn’t even cross the street against the light.”
But cross the street she did, many streets, in fact, as the march moved through Manhattan. Morty knew that her presence caused a stir—and inspired others to ask her for support, or ask her to support their own parents.
March 11, 1973: PFLAG is born
Morty urged Jeanne (and his father Jules, who was very much a part of the PFLAG story) to hold a meeting; without Morty’s encouragement it likely would never have happened. And Morty knew, as a smart activist, that Jeanne and Jules HAD to be the ones to start the group; it could not be Morty because it needed parents and families—ALLIES—to meet other people, potential allies, where they are and bring them along. Without Jeanne and Jules, PFLAG could never have happened.
The first meeting of what is now known as PFLAG took place on March 11, 1973 at the Metropolitan-Duane Methodist Church in Greenwich Village (now the Church of the Village). Approximately 20 people attended including Jeanne, Morty and Jules Manford, Dick and Amy Ashworth and their sons Tucker and Everard, and Bob and Elaine Benov,
The site of the first meeting is now marked with a plaque, placed by PFLAG National in partnership with our friends at the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (Village Preservation).
PFLAG groups begin to form across the United States
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. Following the 1979 National March for Gay and Lesbian Rights, representatives from these groups met for the first time in Washington, DC.
A national organization takes form
By 1980, PFLAG, then known as Parents FLAG, began to distribute information to educational institutions and communities of faith nationwide, establishing itself as a source of information for the general public. When “Dear Abby” mentioned PFLAG in one of her advice columns, we received more than 7,000 letters requesting information. In 1981, members decided to launch a national organization.
PFLAG National was established in Los Angeles under founding president--and PFLAG LA founder--Adele Starr.
In 1982, the Federation of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Inc., then representing some 20 groups, was incorporated in California and granted non-profit, tax-exempt status. In 1987, PFLAG National relocated to Denver, under President Elinor Lewallen.
PFLAG became involved in opposing Anita Bryant’s anti-gay crusade and worked to end the U.S. military’s efforts to discharge lesbians—more than a decade before military issues came to the forefront of the LGBTQ movement. And by the late 1980s, PFLAG began to have notable success in organizing chapters in rural communities.
Rapid growth and national advocacy
In 1990, following a period of significant growth, PFLAG National employed an Executive Director, expanded its staff, and moved to Washington, DC.
PFLAG National Board President Paulette Goodman sent a letter to Barbara Bush asking for Mrs. Bush’s support. The first lady’s personal reply stated, “I firmly believe that we cannot tolerate discrimination against any individuals or groups in our country. Such treatment always brings with it pain and perpetuates intolerance.” Inadvertently given to the Associated Press, her comments caused a political maelstrom and were perhaps the first gay-positive comments to come from the White House.
In the early 1990s, PFLAG chapters in Massachusetts helped pass the first Safe Schools legislation in the country. In 1993, PFLAG added the word "Families" to the name, and added bisexual people to its mission and work.
By the mid-1990s a PFLAG family was responsible for the Department of Education’s ruling that Title IX also protected gay and lesbian students from harassment based on sexual orientation.
PFLAG National also put the Religious Right on the defensive, when Pat Robertson threatened to sue any station that carried the Project Open Mind advertisements. The resulting media coverage drew national attention to PFLAG's message linking hate speech with hate crimes and LGBTQ teen suicide.
In 1998, PFLAG National added transgender people in its mission, one of the first national non trans-specific organizations to do so.
PFLAG's Straight for Equality program is born
In 2007, PFLAG National created the Straight for Equality program, providing national outreach and education to empower new allies who don’t necessarily have a family connection to LGBTQ+ community. PFLAG National's publication offerings expanded to include Straight for Equality ally guides, including guides for straight allies, cisgender allies, and allies of faith,
PFLAG drops the acronym to reflect its full inclusion
In 2014, the organization officially changed its name from "Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays" to, simply, PFLAG. This change was made to accurately reflect PFLAG members, those PFLAG serves, and the inclusive work PFLAG has been doing for decades.
PFLAG programming expands
In the early 2020s, PFLAG programming expanded widely to include PFLAG Connects, PFLAG Connects: Communities, and our Read With Love program.
PFLAG turns 50
We are proud to celebrate 50 years of leading with love!