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Encore: After nearly 50 years, PFLAG says it still has a long way to go

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

When celebrating Pride, some of the biggest cheers goes to family members marching with PFLAG. That's the group originally known as Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. PFLAG now serves every member of the LGBTQ community, which prompted NPR's Neda Ulaby to wonder how else it has changed since it started.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Fifty years ago, Jeanne Manford made headlines when she did something unheard of. She marched alongside her gay son at an early New York City Pride parade. Manford founded PFLAG in the early 1970s and went on TV to explain her own journey.

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JEANNE MANFORD: I had never any feelings about homosexuals. I gave very little thought to it. As far as I knew, I never knew any gay people.

ULABY: Gay people tended to be closeted then. Kay Holladay did not know any gay people, either.

KAY HOLLADAY: I think my choir director at church probably was.

ULABY: Holladay and her husband felt lost and isolated when their son came out to them in Norman, Okla., in 1982. Their church did not accept gay people. Neither did their community.

HOLLADAY: We had nobody to talk to. We had no other families. We had no resources.

ULABY: They went to the public library to educate themselves and found nothing. The Holladays learned about PFLAG from "Dear Abby." They decided to help start a local chapter. And this year they were grand marshals of Norman's Pride Parade. PFLAG was created for people like the Holladays. And for many kids from families like theirs, coming out has become relatively painless. But it was not easy for Devin Green.

DEVIN GREEN: It was very nerve-wracking. Being Jamaican and having a relatively conservative upbringing, I just didn't really know what to expect.

ULABY: Green grew up in North Carolina, attending a church that taught a literal interpretation of the Bible. Green's mom grew up in Jamaica, where homophobia was a constant, she says, at church, on the news and in popular music.

CLAUDETTE GREEN: There were songs that glorified killing LGBTQ members. There was actually laws on the books in Jamaica that you could go to jail if you were in the LGBTQ community.

ULABY: So when Devin came out as trans in ninth grade, Claudette Green was not having it. But a therapist talked her into attending a PFLAG meeting. She hated it.

C GREEN: Because when I got there, I met families who were more accepting of their children. And so I felt like I was a terrible parent.

ULABY: But Green was the opposite of a terrible parent. She and her kid talked. When the head of the local PFLAG chapter invited her out for coffee one on one, she went. Five years later, she proudly marches in Pride parades. She's changed her nursing career to focus on helping LGBTQ youth, and she's just accepted a position on PFLAG Charlotte's board. PFLAG's executive director Brian Bond says the organization still has a long way to go.

BRIAN BOND: It's predominantly white. I don't have the percentage in front of me, but it's predominantly white.

ULABY: PFLAG is trying, he says, with bilingual literature and developing spaces where people with similar backgrounds can support each other. Bond is haunted, he says, by the people PFLAG does not reach.

BOND: I keep a receipt in my wallet from a funeral for a 13-year-old kid that died by suicide.

ULABY: The kid was gay. His family had never heard of PFLAG. The organization paid for the child's funeral anonymously.

BOND: Interesting enough, it was a state trooper that reached out to us to see if we would help. That's not our job, but it's what we needed to do at the moment. And making sure that no family has to go through that should be our ultimate goal.

ULABY: Times have changed, but in some ways, they haven't. PFLAG, for the first time ever, this June became the plaintiff in a lawsuit. It's against the state of Texas to protect trans kids and their families fighting for affirmative health care.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.