Today, PFLAG National and PFLAGers across the country are mourning the loss of PFLAG President Emeritus Sam Thoron, who died peacefully in his home earlier this month.
Sam’s strong, loving, and tireless service to PFLAG--service he shared with his wife Julia (a longtime PFLAG leader in her own right)--started when his own daughter, Liz, came out in 1990. During that coming-out process, she shared literature with her parents; one such piece came from PFLAG.
Sam leaped from support to service quickly, as the president of PFLAG San Francisco. During his long tenure, Sam along with Julia welcomed people to their home both literally (for board and support meetings) and figuratively, constantly striving to provide the loving shoulder that so many LGBTQ+ people needed when their own families weren’t there for them.
This became very public service during the Prop 8 battle for marriage equality in California, where the Thorons became the recognized face and voice of the fight, featured in commercials that ran statewide. They later went on to write the letter in opposition to Prop 8 that was shared in the official California Voter Guide.
In addition to their local and statewide leadership, Sam went on to serve as a Regional Director in Northern California, and then on the PFLAG National board for several years, eventually becoming the president of PFLAG National in 2002.
Throughout his tenure, Sam emphasized the importance of personal stories to moving equality forward and gaining new allies. Sam said, “Each and every time we tell our truth, we’re creating a world where the sense that there is shame in being LGBT—or having a child or loved one who is—becomes less pervasive.” That strategy continues on at the center of PFLAG’s work.
PFLAG National staff and leaders remember Sam with great love and gratitude.
Current PFLAG National Board President Kathy Godwin said, “Sam Thoron was always a PFLAG parent first, but then gave PFLAG so much more. His leadership was personal, caring, thoughtful, and filled with passion, but mostly it was about the right to love, to be authentic, and to share one's life in joy and dignity.”
Shared PFLAG National Director of Learning & Inclusion Jean-Marie Navetta, “Sam was the first PFLAG president with whom I worked, and he is part of who I have become. I will not forget the two big lessons he taught me: Tell your story, and ask for help when you need it. These things are at the heart of PFLAG and, I think, were in Sam’s heart too.”
Brooke Smith, PFLAG Chapter Engagement Manager, said, “Sam knew our truth and knew we were on the right side of history. Even in the midst of crushing losses that hurt deeply, he taught me to take the high road. He often told the story about his first meeting at PFLAG San Francisco where the chapter leader made an announcement that she would be leaving the keys and not be returning the next month. We had no idea at that moment what a treasure was walking into PFLAG and how he would affect our organization.”
You can read more about Sam Thoron and his legacy of love at pflag.org/blog/thoronslegacylove. You can also read today's beautiful memorial piece in the San Francisco Bay Times.