Beloved gay rights ally Jeanne Manford
passed away in her Daly City, California home. She was 92.
Manford founded Parents, Families and
Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) in 1972 as a response to the
brutal beating of her gay son, Morty, while distributing gay rights
flyers during a political gathering in New York City.
She complained about police inaction in
a letter to the New York Post.
“I have a homosexual son and I love
him,” she wrote.
The reaction to her speaking out led to
the creation of PFLAG.
In a statement given to The
Huffington Post, daughter Suzanne Swan said her mother's heath
had been declining for some time.
“She is known to thousands of people
as the mother of the straight ally movement, but to me – she was my
mother. She was someone who would always do the right thing, the
good thing. She supported all people, and that means so much to us
Jody Huckaby, executive director of
PFLAG National, called Manford “one of the fiercest fighters” in
the equality movement.
“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,” Huckaby said in a statement. “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. She paved the way for us to speak out for what
is right, uniting the unique parent, family and ally voice with the
voice of LGBT people everywhere.”
President Barack Obama has publicly
mentioned Manford no less than four times. In 2009, he told a Human
Rights Campaign (HRC) audience that Manford and her husband Jules
were part of the fabric of America.
“Soon after the protests at Stonewall
40 years ago, the phone rang in the home of a soft-spoken elementary
school teacher named Jeanne Manford,” Obama said. “It was 1:00
in the morning, and it was the police. Now, her son, Morty, had been
at the Stonewall the night of the raids. Ever since, he had felt
within him a new sense of purpose. So when the officer told Jeanne
that her son had been arrested, which was happening often to gay
protesters, she was not entirely caught off guard. And then the
officer added one more thing, 'And you know, he's homosexual.'
(Laughter.) Well, that police officer sure was surprised when Jeanne
responded, 'Yes, I know. Why are you bothering him?'”
long after, Jeanne would be marching side-by-side with her son
through the streets of New York. She carried a sign that stated her
support. People cheered. Young men and women ran up to her, kissed
her, and asked her to talk to their parents. And this gave Jeanne and
Morty an idea.”
“And so, after that march on the anniversary
of the Stonewall protests, amidst the violence and the vitriol of a
difficult time for our nation, Jeanne and her husband Jules – two
parents who loved their son deeply – formed a group to support
other parents and, in turn, to support their children, as well. At
the first meeting Jeanne held, in 1973, about 20 people showed up.
But slowly, interest grew. Morty's life, tragically, was cut short by
AIDS. But the cause endured. Today, the organization they founded for
parents, families, and friends of lesbians and gays has more than
200,000 members and supporters, and has made a difference for
countless families across America. And Jeanne would later say, 'I
considered myself such a traditional person. I didn't even cross the
street against the light. But I wasn't going to let anybody walk over