July 28, 2016

Originally printed in the Sierra Vista Herald

When Lynne Thomasson was graduating from high school in the early ’60s, she knew she wasn’t like the other girls her age.

“I had this issue,” she said. “I was so proud. I struck out (in baseball) the boy that everybody was going ga-ga over…I didn’t have any feelings like that but in the meantime my heart went pitter patter over the girl who lived across the street that was in my Girl Scout troop. I just wished I could hold her hand. You know, I didn’t know anything about anything, but I felt something was wrong with me.

In college Thomasson learned to accept that she is a lesbian. Eventually she told her parents, who also accepted her and told her they loved her but they never told anyone else.

Members of PFLAG Seek Members“They never were comfortable to tell anybody,” Thomasson said. “It was like something that you were ashamed of, like you weren’t as good as everybody else. In spite of being a really good person, I had this flaw, so to speak.”

Today, Thomasson has a wife of 35 years. She’s a retired school teacher and retired U.S. Army Reservist. She’s happy and at peace with herself, but having suffered, having been in the closet, Thomasson wants to help others who might now be suffering. To that end, she joined PFLAG.

It stands for Parents, Family, Friends and Allies United with Lesbians, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer People to Move Equality Forward. It’s a mouthful, but besides being the name, it’s also the group’s aim.

PFLAG was started in 1972 by a mom who simply wanted to publicly support her gay son. Sierra Vista’s chapter was established nearly five years ago. The foundation work had already been laid by two people but public meetings had not yet taken place so founder Mary Cunningham and her friend got those underway. She was always very interested in social justice and because her father is gay, thought this would be a good way to go. From the very first meeting they have had between 20 and 25 people attend every meeting. Not all are LGBT people. Many of those in attendance are family members or friends of LGBT people and go to give support.

“We started out as a group of LGBT people and allies,” Cunningham said. “Now we’ve really become what I like to call a tribe together. With these types of questions and subject matter and issues and advocacy and support that we are involved with month after month, we’ve really gotten to know each other. So many of them have said, ‘This has become my family.’”  

Group members sit in a circle and the meeting begins with a reading of PFLAG’s mission statement, which really boils down to three purposes: “To support, to educate and to advocate for, and on behalf of, our families and friends,” according to PFLAG Sierra Vista’s literature. Then members and visitors state their names and why they came.

Thomasson comes to the meetings because she wants to offer support to anyone on the same journey she’s on.

“I’m with them because I’ve walked the walk and I know how hard it is,” she said. “I want to do whatever I can to help.”

After the introductions it’s time to start the business portion of the meeting. This is one active chapter. The club discussed adopting a highway. They talked about the rainbow ribbons and pins they gave away during Bisbee’s Pride Day. They moved along plans for a yard sale. They looked at Safe Zone signs and looked at the possibility of joining Sierra Vista’s Chamber of Commerce. Finally the night’s program got underway. Social worker Sharon Travis works for the Arizona Department of Child Safety. She discussed foster parenting and adoption for same-sex couples.

“I would encourage folks in this room to become foster parents,” she said, but be aware. “Once a child is in your home, it’s very easy to become bonded.”

Travis discussed what happens once a person decides to pursue fostering. There is fingerprinting and deep background checks and classes and home visits by just about everyone, including the social worker, the child’s attorney and the parents’ attorneys. It is an invasive process. Still, it is the easiest and least expensive way to adoption.

Then she brought up one last point for the group.

“If you sense an agency is presenting barriers (because you are an LGBT person or in a same-sex relationship), be bold and forthright,” she said. “Say to them, ‘Then tell me who to go to.’ They are required by state law to do that.”

With that, the meeting ended. But the work goes on.

“What our group tries to do is be a real, visible presence in the community,” Cunningham said.

The motto of PFLAG Sierra Vista is, “Come where you are celebrated.”

“Because as you know, LGBTs are not celebrated at all and this is a place where they can come and just be their true selves, no hiding,” Cunningham said. “Just a couple of weeks ago, one of the women, who is lesbian, she said, ‘When I first started coming, I came to the meeting as a lesbian. Now I walk through that door and I’m just me. I don’t have a label. I’m just my true self.’”