Local PFLAG group offers support for parents, family and friends

........................................................................................................................................................................................

Like any support group worth its salt, what happens at PFLAG stays at PFLAG.

And the Valencia County group of Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays is no exception.

"The meetings are confidential. What is said does not leave the room. Not everyone is 'out' in the same way," said the group's president, Chelmoon.

She has asked her real name not be used, since she is one of those people who isn't "out" the way others might be.

She says seeing someone in a grocery story and saying you are looking forward to seeing them at the next PLFAG meeting could create, at best, an uncomfortable situation.

At worst, it could create an unsafe situation.

"We are here to give support, not advice. We are not licensed counselors," she said. "People share their life experiences and what has worked for them."

The group also avoids three other topics — politics, religion and sex.

"We don't want to use any words that will cause people to imagine what happens in someone's bedroom," said Sheila Mink, president of the Albuquerque PFLAG chapter. "That's not what this group is for."

According to Mink, every PFLAG chapter follows the national organization's main goals of support, education and advocacy.

"And in that order. First and foremost, we are a support group," Mink said.

While not an independent PFLAG chapter yet and part of the Albuquerque chapter, the Los Lunas group has been meeting steadily since October and is working to become a full fledged chapter.

"Don't get discouraged," said Katherine Palmer, state PFLAG coordinator and treasurer of the Albuquerque chapter. "The best thing you can do is keep meeting, just be here. The great thing about PFLAG is it's not just for parents and friends, but the whole LGBT community.

"At a gay meeting, you talk about gay issues. At lesbian meetings, you talk about lesbian issues. Here, we talk about everything," she said.

This year, PFLAG is celebrating its 40th anniversary. The idea for PFLAG began in 1972 when Jeanne Manford marched with her gay son, Morty Manford, in New York's Pride Day parade, holding a sign calling on parents to support their gay children.

After many gay and lesbian people ran up to Jeanne during the parade and begged her to talk to their parents, she decided to begin a support group.

The first formal meeting took place in March 1973 at the Metropolitan Duane Methodist Church in New York City. About 20 people attended.

Currently, there are 300,000 members nation wide, 500 chapters, 10 of which are in New Mexico.

"Half of our members are GLBT. It's not just for parents," Palmer said.

Mink said she likened the growth to erosion — slow, steady, eventual.

"That's why it's so important for Katherine and I to be out there and connect, to help form chapters," she said. "It's so important to be present."

Patricia Gillikin, an English professor at the University of New Mexico-Valencia who helped to start the Queer Straight Alliance on the campus, said she got involved in the local PFLAG group because, "It seemed to me that Valencia County needed something. PFLAG seemed to be the perfect fit. It's the most accepting, gentle, loving organization possible."

Chelmoon agreed, saying FPLAG is a non-judgemental group, offering a safe place where people can be themselves.

"It doesn't matter who you are, whether you're the parent of someone who just came out or a trans individual who isn't out," she said.

After attending a few meetings of the Albuquerque chapter, David Crawford said he was impressed by just what they did.

"There is a lot of misinformation. I thought it was time to have some candles in the darkness," Crawford said. "I really do believe that whether they are used or not, we have to have the resources available."

William Buck, a UNM-VC QSA member, who will help carry the group forward this fall, said as a secular and social activist, joining PFLAG came naturally.

And there were a few other reasons.

"My entire life, I've had two fathers. My sister is a lesbian and has a daughter. I grew up this way," Buck said. "For some people, PFLAG and organizations like the QSA are the only places they can really be themselves safely."

Iva Paiz, the secretary/treasurer of the group, has a gay stepson and grandson.

"My grandson didn't come out to me for a long time because he was afraid to upset me," Paiz said. "I told him, 'Hey, I'm a member of PFLAG.'

"This organization really helps. As you hear others' stories, you identify with parts of it and use it in your own situation. It's very therapeutic to know you're not alone."

For more information on the PFLAG Valencia County group, search for its page on Facebook.

The Valencia County PFLAG group meets at 6:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of the month. Contact organizers at pflagvalencia@gmail.com for meeting locations.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.