Jeanne Manford, activist and founder of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, died today at the age of 92.
Hailed as one of the LGBT-rights movement's first straight allies, Manford founded PFLAG after her son, Morty Manford, who died of AIDS-related complications in 1992, was among those patrons at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village when a police raid sparked the 1969 Stonewall riots. When Morty Manford was beaten during a Gay Activists Alliance demonstration in April 1972 and police failed to intervene, Jeanne Manford wrote a letter to the New York Post standing by her son.
"I have a homosexual son, and I love him," her letter read.
That same year Jeanne Manford marched with her son in New York City's Christopher Street Liberation Day March. The outpouring of support from those marching in the parade who asked her to talk to their parents led her to found a support group that later became PFLAG. Today, the organization has 350 chapters in the U.S. with more than 200,000 members.
PFLAG's executive director, Jody Huckaby, issued a statement remembering Manford as a "pioneer" and "Mother of the Straight Ally movement."
Jeanne was one of the fiercest fighters in the battle for acceptance and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. 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. No Internet. No cellphones. Just a deep love for her son and a sign reading “Parents of Gays: Unite in Support for Our Children."
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.
In 2009, President Barack Obama told the story of PFLAG's founding at the Human Rights Campaign's annual dinner.
"And that's the story of America, of ordinary citizens organizing, agitating and advocating for change," Obama said of Manford's founding of PLFAG. "Of hope stronger than hate, of love more powerful than any insult or injury. Of Americans fighting to build for themselves and their families a nation in which no one is a second-class citizen, in which no one is denied their basic rights, in which all of us are free to live and love as we see fit."
[Photo: Jeanne Manford marches with her son Morty Manford in 1972. (Courtesy PFLAG)]
WATCH Obama's 2009 remarks here: