In Memoriam: Nancy McDonald, President Emerita of PFLAG National (1996-1998)
October 26, 2023
Statement from Susan Thronson, Chair of the PFLAG National Board of Directors
Today, the LGBTQ+ people, parents, families and allies who are part of PFLAG remember and mourn the loss of PFLAG National President Emerita Nancy McDonald.
Nancy embodied what it means to lead with love. Before assuming the mantle of president, in May of 1996, Nancy was the only parent of an LGBTQ+ child to testify in opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act before the U.S. House Judiciary subcommittee.
In a calm and steady voice, Nancy used her remarks to deliver a ‘midwestern scolding.’ She made it clear that she was not there to supposedly ‘defend’ marriage, as the value of the institution was not in question. “I find that instead of defending marriage, I need to defend people—gay and lesbian people who are being denied the right to marry,” she said. “I think we would not be here today if society did not have a deep bias against gay and lesbian persons.”
Later that year, Nancy was elected to serve as President. In her tenure, the organization took what was then a bold step: to extend PFLAG’s mission to include transgender people (1998). At that time, organizations that served transgender people were excluded from the movement for equal rights for LGBTQ+ people. Thankfully for PFLAG and our movement, around 1995, Nancy met Mary Boenke from Roanoke, Va., a PFLAG parent who had a transgender child.
Mary’s words resonated with Nancy. “Being transgender is completely different from being gay. But if my child is facing the same discrimination as your child, we ought to be on the same page,” Mary said.
And while Nancy recognized that she didn’t yet ‘get it,’ she would recall in later interviews, “That conversation got the ball rolling for me, to add transgender people to the PFLAG mission.”
As the first organization to name lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people together in its mission, PFLAG, under Nancy’s leadership, ensured that every LGBTQ+ person and loved one would find inclusive support, education and advocacy. PFLAG has been a fully LGBTQ+ inclusive organization for 25 years, and as the parent of a transgender person, I am personally grateful for Nancy’s work.
About Nancy McDonald (1936-2023)
Born in 1936 in Beemer, Neb., Nancy McDonald was a warrior for inclusion in every aspect of her life, and she made a marked difference in her community of Tulsa, Okla. From 1966 until her retirement from the school district in 1990, she worked to integrate Tulsa schools and build them to excellence so every child, Black, white or brown, had access to a great education.
As a parent of four children, Nancy was committed to the role of supportive adults in the lives of youth. Active in the PTA, she served on the board of the National School Volunteer Program, and later joined the board of President H.W. Bush’s Partners in Education. She served on the board of Girl Scouts of Eastern Oklahoma for 16 years, and after her daughter came out as lesbian, Nancy and her husband Joe founded the PFLAG Tulsa chapter in 1987.
Recognizing the need for support, education and advocacy for LGBTQ+ people and their families in her state and other rural locales, Nancy helped organize PFLAG chapters in Norman and Oklahoma City. As PFLAG Regional Director, she also had a hand in organizing chapters in Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico and Texas.
In 1996, the McDonalds founded the Nancy & Joe McDonald Rainbow Library on the second floor of the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center in Tulsa. The collection now includes more than 3,500 LGBTQ+ books and resources. In 2010, after more than a decade of work, Nancy, Joe and others, succeeded in adding sexual orientation to the City of Tulsa’s employee non-discrimination policy.
In recognition of her community service and her expertise in the role of adults in supporting youth, Nancy had been a guest to the White House of each President Reagan, H.W. Bush, and Clinton. She was the only parent of an LGBTQ+ person invited to testify before the U.S. House Judiciary subcommittee in opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. Nancy has been honored by the Girl Scouts, Tulsa Community College, and by the Oklahoma Conference for Community and Justice, which named an award for teachers, principals and volunteers who embrace equity and inclusion, called “The Spirit of Nancy McDonald.” Additionally, she has been honored with the All Souls Unitarian Centennial Award, the Pathfinder Award, and is an inductee into the Tulsa Hall of Fame.
Nancy died in Tulsa on Oct. 24, 2023 at the age of 87. She is survived by her husband Joe McDonald, 90; brother Howard Nellor, 85; sister Sharlene Clatanoff, 83; her four children, JoElyn Newcomb, Paul McDonald, Jason McDonald, and Morva McDonald; her eight grandchildren, Amelia, Joseph, Hannah, Francesca, Floyd, Ava, Simon, and Sadie along with the Jones family: Zack and Chantal and their two children, Jason and Sarah.
PFLAG is an organization of LGBTQ+ people, parents, families, and allies who work together to create an equitable and inclusive world. We are hundreds of thousands of people and hundreds of chapters from coast to coast who are leading with love to support families, educate allies, and advocate for just, equitable, and inclusive legislation and policies. Since our founding in 1973, PFLAG works every day to ensure LGBTQ+ people everywhere are safe, celebrated, empowered and loved. Learn more, find support, donate, and take action at PFLAG.org.
Laura McGinnis (she/her),
Sr. Manager, Press and Public Relations
[email protected] | (202) 864-2247