How One Mother’s Love for Her Gay Son Started a Revolution

The crowd along Sixth Avenue was losing its mind. It was Sunday, June 25, 1972, and Dr. Benjamin Spock was walking uptown with the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, the scrappier, more revolutionary precursor to the New York City Pride Parade. Although he had risen to fame as a pediatrician, Spock was almost as well known for his support of left-wing causes—from legalizing abortion to ending the Vietnam War—as he was for “The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care,” which had already sold more than ten million copies. Still, even by his standards, joining the Christopher Street crowd was a radical act. Two years earlier, when the march was held for the first time, its organizers had worried that no one would come. Those who did were so hopped up on adrenaline and fear that the fifty-block route, from the West Village to Central Park, took them half as long as anticipated; afterward, they jokingly called it the Christopher Street Liberation Day Run. Now here was Dr. Spock, one of the most influential figures in America, joining their ranks. As he passed by, the people lining the streets whistled and clapped and screamed themselves hoarse.

But all this hullabaloo was not, as it turned out, for the famous doctor; it was for a diminutive middle-aged woman marching just in front of him. She was not famous at all—not the author of any books, not the leader of any movement, not self-evidently a radical of any kind. With her jacket and brooch and plaid skirt and spectacles, she had the part-prim, part-warm demeanor of an old-fashioned elementary-school teacher, which she was. She was carrying a piece of orange poster board with a message hand-lettered in black marker: “parents of gays: unite in support for our children.” She had no idea that the crowd was cheering for her until total strangers started running up to thank her. They asked if they could kiss her; they asked if she would talk to their parents; they told her that they couldn’t imagine their own mothers and fathers supporting them so publicly, or supporting them at all.

The woman’s name was Jeanne Manford, and she was marching alongside her twenty-one-year-old gay son, Morty. Moved by the outpouring of emotion, the two of them discussed it all along the route. By the time they reached Central Park, they had also reached a decision: if so many people wished that someone like Jeanne could talk to their parents, why not make that possible? The organization they dreamed up that day, which started as a single support group in Manhattan, was initially called Parents of Gays; later, it was renamed Parents flag, for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays; nowadays, it is known only as pflag. Just a handful of people attended its first meeting, held fifty years ago this spring. Today, it has four hundred chapters and well north of a quarter of a million members.

Read more here.

* This story was originally in April 17, 2023 issue of The New Yorker.

Gender-affirming Care, North Carolina

This 12-year-old wants to continue gender-affirming care. NC lawmakers are trying to stop it.

When Amanda Dumas heard details about the latest North Carolina bills aimed at limiting medical treatment of transgender children, the door to the place where she holds back her rage cracked open again.

Just as she was about to head to her youngest child’s monthly counseling session, she saw that a bill banning puberty-blocking drugs and hormone therapy for transgender minors was revived by the state General Assembly.

And she figured before 12-year-old Michael talked to his therapist, she might as well tell him that the puberty-blocking shot he receives every three months might soon be barred by North Carolina.

The shots prevent Mike from going through puberty, stopping him from developing breasts or starting to menstruate. The shots allow Mike to continue to live as the boy he’s been since he was 5 years old.

Amanda and her husband, Josh, have seen the wave of laws barring gender-affirming treatment of transgender children enacted across the country this year, swelling like the tide and inching toward them. It’s at their toes now, and they can’t ignore it.

For years, Mike and his family have been helped by therapists and doctors who’ve consulted with volumes of research on the best approaches to raising a transgender child. They’ve put a plan in place to advance from Mike’s current puberty blockers to hormone therapy that will allow his body to transition physically to the gender he’s always identified as.

Read more here.

Thank you

My name is Doug Cooper (he/him). I am an Associate Professor of Psychology at Johnson C. Smith University and PFLAG Charlotte’s new Board Chair and President. I went to my first PFLAG Charlotte support group meeting in 2015 with my partner. We were expecting to learn more about how to be better allies to a gender diverse teenager. In that process, we also found community and belonging. I never imagined that I would join the board in 2018 or become Board Chair and President in 2023. As I step into this next chapter, I find myself incredibly grateful to my supportive partner who encourages my personal growth, a gender diverse adult who has given me the grace to learn what it means to be an ally, and to the PFLAG Charlotte members and stakeholders. 

In every support group and workshop, one of our most important values is: “we meet you where you are.” We recognize that every allyship journey is unique and regardless of where you begin, we want to support your journey forward. In the last several years, we have learned that this value is both figurative and literal. Dedicated board members and volunteers started satellite support groups in North Meck and Union County to meet people closer to home. During the global pandemic we met people where they needed us: on screen in their living rooms and offices. Even though many of our events are back in person, PFLAG Charlotte continues to meet people where they are with new workshops, peer support in Spanish, and a soon-to-be-released podcast.  

As I step into this role, I am acutely aware of how much we are needed right now and the importance of continuing the work to meet people where they are. I want to continue the discussions on how to provide support for marginalized communities and families in the surrounding Charlotte area. I want to continue to expand individual and corporate partnerships that serve our community. And I want to continue to empower the incredible work our team of professionals do every day to connect PFLAG Charlotte to the people who need us.  

Of course, none of this would be possible without the support of a dedicated and skilled Board of Directors. We are lucky to have so many talented professionals join us in this important work. Our board includes members of the LGBTQ+ community and allies. They are professionals in finance, marketing, education, health care, and law. We all share is a deep commitment to the inclusion and rights of LGBTQ+ individuals. I am excited to bring this new team together in August. 

But the addition of seven new board members is bittersweet, as we bid farewell to two amazing board members who have been instrumental in PFLAG Charlotte’s growth. Over the past two years Sarah Eyssen (she/her) has served as the President and Board Chair. She has served on the board since 2015 and was one of the people who had the vision to make PFLAG Charlotte allyship workshops accessible to doctor’s offices, schools, or workplaces. Under her leadership PFLAG Charlotte has increased corporate sponsors and been able to hire a team of professionals to oversee the day-to-day operations.  

Our Treasurer, Eileen Conlin (she/her), joined the board in 2019. She has guided us towards the financial stability needed to serve the greater Charlotte area with a dedicated team of paid professionals. But what I’ll remember most about Sarah and Eileen was when they met my family where they were. Like they have done on so many occasions for other families, they encouraged and supported our family’s journey and gave me the confidence to turn my journey into a new passion. In my new role, I hope to continue their legacy of leading with love and meeting all who need us where they are.

The Gift of Gender Non-Conformity, and How to Receive It, by Kelly Green

The Gift of Gender Non-Conformity, and How to Receive It, by Kelly Green
I wish I could go back in time. Most people want just one more day to squeeze their toddler and whisper I love you. Maybe to hold their infant and nurse them for one last time before they move to a bottle or a sippy cup. I remember someone telling me (when the kids were younger) you never really know when the last time you’ll take them to the park and they’ll actually want to play on the playground. The last time they wake up and want to sleep in your bed for the night. I wish I could go back for so many reasons but mostly because I wasted so much time worried about the wrong things.
When I look back at my journey to be a parent, it seems that almost everything was cloaked in gender. What are the first questions people ask you about your family planning?  Do you want to have a boy or a girl? What will you name the baby if it’s a girl? If it’s a boy? If you already have two boys, are you trying for a girl? Talk about pressure. Something that’s decided in a split second in a Fallopian tube becomes the entire narrative of your birthing experience.
I remember wishing and hoping for a boy. Now I ask myself why would that matter? I ended up losing my first baby at 10 weeks. No one had talked to me about how common miscarriage is for first pregnancies. And once I lost the baby, it was like I was never pregnant. All the questions around the pregnancy just stopped, and no one spoke of the loss. It is an unspeakable loss that most couples have to suffer in silence. It’s taboo to bring it up— and the guilt and shame it puts on the person carrying the baby is tremendous.
I had already purchased gendered clothing and planned to paint the room baby blue. Without even knowing if the baby was going to make it into this world, I was already putting societal constructs in place. And to what end? I should have been focused on creating a loving and nurturing environment, how to create traditions that would tie family together, how to make time for myself in the midst of chaos. Instead, I was focused on a baby blue layette and a nursery themed with dinosaurs.
My husband was married before me and had two amazing daughters with his previous wife. When we started planning our family he talked about how badly he wanted to have a son. Since he was a boy, he always wanted to have a son named David. Think about how much weight that is to carry. For him, a son to carry the legacy of his family name. For me, as a new wife (a second wife) the weight of bearing a son for a husband he so desperately wants, and that his first wife ‘could not give him.’ What an unfair objective for me, and how unfair to his first wife. She brought two unbelievable beings into this world and was made to feel that it wasn’t enough because of their assigned gender.
So then you’re pregnant. It seems like ages until you find out the sex of the baby. Of course, there are all of those other tests, too— never talked about and coming to the surprise of so many pregnant woman. Genetic testing, chromosomal testing, diabetes testing— before I hit my doctor’s office I hadn’t heard about any of these tests, but I definitely knew that I would find out the sex of the baby at 16 weeks. I knew that I should eat something sweet or drink a sugary drink to excite the baby enough to see what genitalia we could derive from the sonogram, but I hadn’t considered what genetic testing and chromosomal testing would uncover, or how to process it. For my first child I found out that I was a carrier of Tay Sachs disease, which commonly affects Ashkenazi Jewish people. The condition is usually fatal by around 3 to 5 years of age, often due to complications of a lung infection (pneumonia). My husband had to be immediately tested and that week of waiting on results was emotionally devastating. These are the conversations around child-rearing that we need to have— how we grapple with all of the things that come our way.
For some reason we have bought into gender being the most important thing about pregnancy and birth. The only thing I can garner from that is that it feeds into our capitalistic consumerism. Once we know the gender, we are buying, buying, buying. If I could go back what I would’ve been doing was reading about actual parenting. Techniques for behavior modification. The presenting characteristics of autism, signs of depression, ways to help a struggling reader, skills to refine parenting approaches, how to stop your child from self-injury. How to be a better person. I would’ve dealt with childhood trauma because I know now as a parent that any trauma you haven’t dealt with is coming right back to teach you and instead of being able to grow from it on your own you now need to help guide another soul through it while you’re handling it beside them. It’s like watching a mini version of yourself making the same mistake and trying to help them tread water while you’re drowning.
Once you know the sex of your baby it seems like it’s all anybody talks about. You plan your baby shower around it. Some people even do gender reveal parties. You’ve chosen names by gender, often they carry the emotional weight of honoring a passed loved one or a name that you have had chosen since your childhood and as soon as your child is brought into this world the hospital starts to affirm their assigned gender at birth. Pink caps for female assigned at birth and blue caps for male assigned at birth. So many pictures to remember these moments. Never once did I stop to think that one day I would have to take all of these pictures down, never once did I really think about gender as a spectrum. Never once did I realize that I might have children that would look back at these gendered versions of themselves and feel dysphoria, or pain, or even a need to injure themselves to escape it. How could I have inflicted this on them? Because I didn’t know better and neither do many parents today.
There are parents who don’t accept their children when their children tell them who they are. I AM NOT SPEAKING TO THESE PARENTS. If you are the type of parent who can look at your child and say to yourself, “If they ever came out as gay or trans there would not be a space in my home for them,” or “I would not accept them for who they are”—then this is not meant to speak to you. This is only meant to speak to a new parent who would look down at their child and think to themselves, ‘whoever you are and whoever you love, I love you and I will do everything I can to make this world a better place for you.’ These are the parents I’m speaking to because you will hear me when I tell you that you shouldn’t be worried about what sex your child is assigned at birth. You shouldn’t be consumed with ‘it’s a boy’ baby showers or decorating your nursery was pretty pink flowers. You should be consumed with the possibility that your child might not fit into the binary. The spectrum of gender is so expansive that this could mean so many things, and having a child that doesn’t fit the gender binary is illuminating and exhilarating. Once you deconstruct your own conformity it allows you the gift of examining all the societal constructs that you have played a part in and shaped, that you continue to fit into, and that you have the ability to cast off.
What should worry you is that you may be inadvertently adding a layer of pain and trauma to their past without fully understanding it. You may be removing your ability to reminisce about your birthing experience, their young childhood, without being able to share those memories with them and others. If I could go back and take every gendered article of clothing off the hanger I would. That could mean that my child would look back on their infancy without being triggered by the pain of being assigned the wrong gender. And further, if they had conformed to gender expectations, what they were wearing wouldn’t matter because they would feel no pain or dysphoria from it.
Do you understand what that must be like, to never be able to look back at your past without dysphoria? Everything that says to the child about the importance of what gender means? I wish I had focused on making my child feel that anything was possible, and that whoever and however they identify and who they love is just another piece of them that I love, and that I support and embrace. I wish I had been willing to receive the gift of gender nonconformity by preparing from the moment I was pregnant with an open heart and home. Learn from this, learn from my mistake. Be the person that keeps the door open for that conversation by clicking ‘unsubscribe’ to gender norms.

PFLAG Charlotte Statement on Anti-LGBTQ+ Bills

For 36 years, PFLAG Charlotte has been working to make North Carolina a place where everyone can thrive, without fear of discrimination, harassment, or harm. In a climate that is seeing a rise in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and real-world violence, PFLAG Charlotte vehemently opposes the introduction and consideration of the following anti-LGBTQ+ bills by the North Carolina General Assembly: S639, H808, S560, H43, H786, S636, S631, H574, S49, S641, H819, H673. PFLAG Charlotte calls on all supportive North Carolinians to contact your legislators to speak out in opposition to these bills.

Let’s ensure that every student has a safe and welcoming school environment, access to books and lessons that are honest, accurate, and inclusive, and the ability to participate in sports. Let’s make sure that LGBTQ+ youth have access to the medically necessary healthcare they need and that all of us have the love and support of our families, friends, neighbors.

PFLAG Charlotte works each day to support families, educate allies, and advocate for equality.  Join us as we lead with love to create a caring, just and affirming North Carolina–and world–for LGBTQ+ people and those who love them. Shared below are action items provided by the LGBTQ+ community in Charlotte and EqualityNC.

Please take action today: Community Rapid Response Guide available here. EqualityNC action steps available here.

Download a PDF of PFLAG Charlotte’s Statement on Anti-LGBTQ+ Bills.

Sarah Eyssen
President & Board Chair

Karen Graci
Executive Director

PFLAG Charlotte Expands To Meet Growing Needs: Meet Our New Executive Director and New Board Chair

Charlotte – PFLAG Charlotte has become an integral part of the Charlotte community since its founding in 1987.  But the non-profit dedicated to supporting families, allies and LGBTQ+ people has especially seen demand for its services skyrocket in the past year, as families spent more time together during the pandemic.

To respond to increased community needs, PFLAG Charlotte is happy to announce new roles for two leaders who are very familiar to the PFLAG community.

Karen Graci will serve as PFLAG Charlotte’s first executive director. She will lead the organization’s efforts to strengthen families, empower LGBTQ+ allies, and elevate LGBTQ+ communities through peer support, education, and community outreach.

Previously, Graci served as board chair and president for PFLAG Charlotte. Earlier in her career, she worked with Deloitte in Washington, D.C., Wilton, Conn., and Charlotte, where her roles included manager of national recruiting.

“It’s an honor to be part of an organization where diversity is celebrated and all are valued,” Graci says. “We’re excited to expand our peer support programs and broaden our education and outreach efforts, while working collaboratively with other organizations to meet the increasing need in our community.”

Sarah Eyssen has been named PFLAG Charlotte board chair and chapter president. A volunteer with PFLAG Charlotte since 2015, Eyssen has more than a decade of experience in non-profit and board leadership. She holds a law degree from St. Mary’s University School of Law. As a PFLAG Charlotte board member for the past several years, Eyssen has been an integral part of creating the board’s vision for 2021 and beyond.

Says Eyssen, “On my desk, a sampler stitched by my mother reminds me, “of my love be sure”. PFLAG began over 40 years ago because of another mother’s assurance of love for her child. It is in this same spirit that I serve. I am honored to be working toward a reality in which all LGBTQ+ individuals are affirmed in love.”

PFLAG Charlotte’s programs focus on peer support, education, outreach and advocacy. Since the beginning of the pandemic, PFLAG Charlotte has offered its programming online to meet the needs of families and organizations throughout the area.

Demand for support and education from PFLAG Charlotte has increased significantly since summer 2020, with a five-fold increase in requests for peer support, and more organizations taking advantage of the chapter’s ability to deliver remote programming. In the past year alone, more than 1,000 area professionals participated in a PFLAG Charlotte educational workshop.

About PFLAG Charlotte

PFLAG Charlotte is one of the more than 400 chapters of PFLAG National, the nation’s first and largest organization for LGBTQ+ people, their parents, families, and allies.

For LGBTQ+ people and their loved ones, PFLAG is known as a place to find community and support, to learn about the issues affecting LGBTQ+ people and how to be a better ally, and to work to achieve equality for LGBTQ+ people.