PFLAG NYC Mourns the Passing of Founder Jeanne Manford

Jeanne Manford, the founder of PFLAG NYC and the pioneering mother whose simple show of support for her gay son launched an international movement of straight allies for gay rights, passed away at her home in Daly City, California, on January 8, 2013. She was 92. PFLAG NYC joins the extended LGBT community, including friends, family and allies, in mourning her passing.

It was Jeanne’s outspoken support of her son, Morty, during a gay rights march in New York in 1972 that led her on a 40‐year journey of outspoken activism for equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. In 2009, President Obama celebrated Jeanne’s work, calling it “the story of America…of ordinary citizens organizing, agitating, educating for change, of hope stronger than hate, of love more powerful than any insult or injury.”

Jeanne had always supported Morty, but became active on behalf of gay rights after the police failed to intervene while he was kicked and beaten during a Gay Activists Alliance demonstration in April 1972. She wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Post, which was published on April 29, 1972, expressing her outrage at the incident. In that letter she also stated, “I have a homosexual son and I love him.” The statement sparked much public response and drew attention to violence against gays.

In June 1972, Jeanne joined her son in the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade (predecessor to the NYC LGBT Pride March), carrying a placard that said, “Parents of Gays: Unite in Support of Our Children.” She assumed the cheers and encouragement heard from the crowd were for Dr. Benjamin Spock, who walked just behind her and her son. It wasn’t until parade participants began to approach her and express gratitude for her presence with hugs and tears, asking Jeanne to speak with their own parents to help them understand, that she realized the cheers were for herself and her open support of gay children.

Jeanne and her husband, Jules, had been discussing organizing a support group for parents of gay children; these events convinced them such a group was needed. About 20 people attended the first meeting at the Metropolitan Duane United Methodist Church (now known as Church of the Village) in Greenwich Village on March 11, 1973. At first the group called itself “Parents of Gays” or “POG,” and later became today’s PFLAG NYC. The group sought to give parents a place to ask questions, talk about their issues, and begin to better understand their children.

From that point forward, Jeanne and Jules became outspoken advocates for gay rights and the need for families and straight allies to fight on behalf of their LGBT loved ones. From that start, PFLAG became an international organization of parents, family members and friends working for understanding and support of their gay, lesbian, transgendered and bisexual loved ones. The Manfords’ mission of support, education, and advocacy is advanced by more than 350 chapters and over 200,000 members in the United States alone.

Jeanne Manford’s life and legacy will be celebrated in a memorial service in New York later this year. PFLAG NYC will provide further details in coming months as plans are made.

Hear Jeanne Manford talk about the founding of PFLAG NYC in this video from our 35th Anniversary: