August 31, 2014

Today we hear from PFLAG National's Field Manager Brooke Smith on her visit with PFLAG Cleveland. 

This week, thousands of LGBTQ and ally athletes descended on Cleveland and Akron for the 2014 Gay Games. The Gay Games are an international sporting and cultural event held every four years. The Games launched in 1982 and offer a safe environment for LGBTQ competitors. The Games invite participation from all athletes and typically about 10% of participants are non-LGBTQ, often friends and family who participate to show their support. I had the opportunity to attend the PFLAG Cleveland monthly meeting, present at the Game Change conference, and cheer on PFLAG Cleveland’s bowling team as they took the gold in the social division.
PFLAG Cleveland regularly attracts 40 people to its monthly support meeting. I’ve always admired how this chapter reaches out to the community and on Tuesday I had the opportunity to attend this special support group. It’s a true example of the love and support a chapter can provide to the community. People in attendance ranged from those feeling the nervousness of attending for the first time to those praising PFLAG for the support they’ve received for years - some have been attending since the early 1990s. The chapter also welcomed many guests who were participating in the Gay Games - people came from Arizona to El Salvador to Russia. We shared stories, laughed and helped support each other through the long process of coming out. PFLAG Cleveland was started by Jane Daroff and her son 29 years ago. Imagine all of the people they’ve helped along the way. 
My tour of the Games continued on Wednesday at the Game Change Educational Conference. The conference came together through collaboration with PFLAG Akron, CANAPI (Community AIDS Network/Akron Pride Initiative), Jewish Family Services, Gay Community Endowment Fund of Akron Community Foundation, The University of Akron, Federation of Gay Games, and GLSEN North East Ohio. I presented a workshop session on Cultivating Respect: Making Schools Safe for All Students and I participated in a panel with 5 other influential members of the LGBTQ community to talk about changes in the LGBTQ community since Stonewall. The panelists ages and experiences ranged from a young lesbian woman who attempted suicide at an early age to an 83 year old transwoman who served in The Korean War. We were all asked to talk about how the LGBTQ community has affected our lives. We shared our different experiences and remarked that despite of our different paths, we’ve all experienced highly enriched lives because of the LGBTQ community. One panelist talked about how she found PFLAG after a suicide attempt and how it saved her life to be part of a supportive chapter. Another panelist talked about how his mom was one of the founding members of the PFLAG Akron chapter and he was so proud about the support his mom provided to others through PFLAG. 

Thursday marked the culmination of a fantastic week as I watched the PFLAG Cleveland Bowling team take gold. Months of practice paid off as they edged into first place by a few points. I felt so much pride to work at PFLAG after my experiences this week at the Gay Games. As they played the national anthem and PFLAG Cleveland donned their gold medals, I thought about how lucky we are in this country to change our culture, change our laws, and embrace the LGBTQ community.