On July 29, 2016, legislation introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Joseph Crowley, of New York’s 14th District, and co-sponsored in the U.S. Senate by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), was signed as Public Law No: 114-200 by President Barack Obama, to designate the Jackson Heights Post Office as the “Jeanne and Jules Manford Post Office Building.”
Rep. Crowley spoke beautifully about PFLAG’s founder, especially in light of the Pulse Nightclub tragedy which took place earlier that month. Here are his remarks:
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Before I begin, I want to thank my colleagues, Ranking Member Lawrence and Chairman Lummis of the Interior subcommittee, and Ranking Member Cummings and Chairman Chaffetz of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee for working to bring this bill to the floor.
I am so pleased to have this chance to honor Jeanne and Jules Manford and their history of community engagement by naming the Jackson Heights post office in my district after them. I also want to thank Suzanne Swan, Jeanne and Jules’s daughter, and PFLAG for collaborating with me on this legislation.
Mr. Speaker, the timing of this bill’s consideration could not be more opportune. It comes in the wake of last Sunday’s terrible attack on the LGBT community in Orlando – an attack that was motivated by hate. And we stand here today to honor two individuals who, when faced with a hateful act of violence themselves, were inspired to start a movement couched in acceptance and support.
Jeanne and Jules Manford were your typical, middle-class New Yorkers who worked hard to make a better life for themselves, their family, and their community. Jeanne was a teacher at a public school in Flushing, Queens. Jules was a dentist. The couple worked with a number of local community groups helping to make Queens a better place to live. And they raised children, Suzanne and Morty, in whom they instilled the values of hard work, compassion, and public service. Morty was lucky to have two loving parents who accepted him for who he was at a time when acceptance of LGBT people was unfortunately the exception rather than the rule. While a student at Columbia and Cordozo Law School and throughout his career, Morty stood up for the rights of LGBT people, and, like his parents, sought to make life better for those around him. He was one of many present at the Stonewall riot in Greenwich Village in 1969 and continued to organize protests in order to draw attention to issues affecting the LGBT community. Following one of these protests, in April 1972, Morty was badly beaten. In a trial following the beating, witnesses testified that they saw Morty thrown down an escalator, and then kicked and stomped on. Thankfully, the injuries were not fatal, and Morty recovered. But his parents, Jeanne and Jules, were galvanized to take their own actions to counter hate and discrimination.
The following June in the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade, the predecessor to New York’s Pride parade, Jeanne carried a now-famous sign that read, “Parents of Gays Unite in Support for our Children.” The image of Jeanne’s defiance and call to action in the face of bigotry and violence became a celebrated artifact in the history of the gay rights movement. It shows the face of a proud mother who refuses to accept that her child should be mistreated because of who he is. And more importantly, this picture, and that sign, document the inception of a new approach to achieving equality – an effort by parents and families to stand up for their LGBT children. In that moment, now 44 years ago almost to the day, Jeanne embodied the spirit that has now come to guide a national organization – PFLAG. In the wake of Morty Manford’s harrowing beating, Jeanne and Jules realized that even as LGBT people continued to fight for justice and acceptance, their work could be amplified through the support of their allies. And who better to be an ally than one’s own supportive family?
It was with this in mind that Jeanne and Jules founded an organization known as Parents of Gays. With their spirit of community involvement, Jeanne and Jules wanted to help others like them – friends, neighbors, and colleagues – to better understand and support their LGBT children. They held their first support group meeting in 1973 in the Church of the Village, a uniquely accepting and progressive Methodist church in Greenwich Village that is still active today. At a time when attitudes toward sexual orientation were only just beginning to change, the founding of an organization designed to bring in, educate, and support those closest to LGBT individuals – their parents – was critical in advancing acceptance and equal rights.
Over the next few years, similar organizations were started around the country, and their representatives were finally brought together following the 1979 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. A couple of years later, following important work establishing themselves as a source for information and support, various chapters decided to launch a national organization, called Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays, now known as PFLAG. And from there, the organization’s efforts took off.
PFLAG began work on national policy issues, such as stopping the military from discharging lesbian service-members. And it worked to help establish hundreds of chapters in rural communities where LGBT individuals and their families had a more difficult time finding and coordinating with others like them. Today, PFLAG counts over 400 chapters and more than 200,000 members in all 50 states. And similar organizations have been established around the globe. Jeanne and Jules continued to work in their community, helping to found a PFLAG chapter in Queens alongside LGBT activist Danny Dromm, now a member of the New York City Council.
Jeanne went on to become an advocate for people with HIV and AIDS following Morty’s death from the disease in 1992 at the young age of 41. For her many years of work in support of the LGBT community, Jeanne was honored as the first Grand Marshal of the Queens Pride Parade, which began in 1993, the year after Morty’s death. The parade runs through the heart of my district in Queens, and passes a reviewing stand situated directly in front of this post office in Jackson Heights. In fact, the street corner next to this post office was itself renamed for someone we lost to a senseless act of hate – Julio Rivera, who was killed in 1990 at the age of 29, targeted because he was gay. Jackson Heights is a thriving neighborhood with a growing LGBT community, and our community will be honored to have our local post office bear the names of Jeanne and Jules Manford. These symbols remind us how far we’ve come.
After Jules Manford passed away, Jeanne, having lost her husband and son, eventually went to live with her daughter, Suzanne, in California. And in January of 2013, just a few months before the Supreme Court’s landmark decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, Jeanne passed away at the age of 92. That same year, Jeanne was honored posthumously with the Presidential Citizens Medal for her efforts. It is difficult to imagine how we could have achieved so much progress toward attaining more equal rights for LGBT Americans without the work of Jeanne and Jules Manford more than 40 years ago. Though the LGBT community itself had already begun to organize and demand action, it was the Manfords’ work to bring families and allies into the fold that helped push these issues to the fore. Many attribute the shift in public opinion on the issue of marriage equality to the simple fact that gay and lesbian people are able to be more open about who they are. And as a result, more and more straight Americans know someone who is gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender, and want their friends and family to be treated equally. This is thanks in no small part to the supportive network of PFLAG and its chapters throughout the years, and to the movement by parents and family who proudly chose to love their children for who they are.
So as we celebrate Pride Month, I’m glad we have this opportunity to reflect upon and honor those who helped get us to where we are today. And as we mourn in the wake of the tragic shooting at the Pulse LGBT night club in Orlando last week, I hope we all can emulate the way Jeanne and Jules Manford responded to their son Morty’s beating. The Manfords recognized that violent acts of hate don’t show strength. Far from it – they show weaknesses in the soul of the offender. Instead of recoiling in fear, the Manfords reacted with a sign of love, support and solidarity. I’ve been heartened to see millions of Americans do the same over the past week. It has shown our strength as a society and as a nation in spite of an attack meant to shake us.
So I’m particularly glad we are able to consider this legislation today to honor Jeanne and Jules Manford for all they have done for Queens and for America. And I look forward to seeing this become law. Thank you again for working to bring this up for consideration today. I ask my colleagues to support this bill.