I still remember the day my mother asked me that question: "Are you gay?” And, not ready to come out, still fearing what might happen to me if I did, I got angry, very angry. I stopped seeing my parents for a couple of months after that because I really couldn’t look my mother in the eye.
It took me a year or so, but when I finally answered that question, “Yes, I’m gay”, my mother didn’t get angry back; she didn’t remind me of how I’d treated her when she asked. She simply said “I love you.”
And after that we did discuss her question and my response, and I told her that, for me, and lots of gay men and women, we need to come out when we want to come out, not when we’re sort of forced and she said she understood. She said she had just wanted me to know that it didn’t matter to her, that it had never mattered to her, and that's just one of the millions of reasons that, even with her gone, I will always love my mother.
Jeanne Manford was that kind of mother, too.
Way, way back, in April 1972, Jeanne and her husband were sitting at home when they got a phone call saying that their son, Morty had been beaten. Morty was gay, and a gay activist, and he'd been attacked while handing out flyers at a political gathering in New York.
Jeanne was outraged; she wrote a letter of protest to the New York Post in which she identified herself as the mother of a gay protester, complained about the lack of police action, and declared "I have a homosexual son and I love him."
And she didn't stop there. Jeanne gave radio interviews and TV interviews all around the country in the weeks following Morty's attack and then on June 25, she and Morty marched together in the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade. Jeanne Manford carried a sign that read: "Parents of Gays Unite in Support for Our Children".
In that instant, Jeanne Manford became the mother many of us already had, and the mother many of us wanted, and the mother all of us deserve.
Jeanne Manford, who created POG [Parents of Gays] which morphed into PFLAG [Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays], passed away this week at the age of 92. She had been in declining health for some time, according to her daughter, Suzanne Swan.
PFLAG National Executive Director Jody Huckaby:
"Jeanne was one of the fiercest fighters in the battle for acceptance and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. It is truly humbling to imagine in 1972 – just 40 years ago – a simple schoolteacher started this movement of family and ally support, without benefit of any of the technology that today makes a grassroots movement so easy to organize. No Internet. No cellphones. Just a deep love for her son and a sign reading “Parents of Gays: Unite in Support for Our Children .... All of us--people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and straight allies alike – owe Jeanne our gratitude. We are all beneficiaries of her courage. Jeanne Manford proved the power of a single person to transform the world. ."
In addition to her daughter, Manford is survived by her son-in-law, a granddaughter and three great-granddaughters. Jeanne and her late husband, Jules, also had two sons: Charles, who died in 1966, and Morty, who died in 1992.
"She is known to thousands of people as the mother of the straight ally movement, but to me, she was my mother."--Susan Swan
And what a wonderful mother she must have been.
And thank you. And thank you, too, Mom.