“There is something wonderful about bringing together so many people who are working to create a caring, just, and affirming world for LGBTQ+ people and those who love them — especially in this moment,” Brian Bond, the executive director of PFLAG, the national advocacy organization for parents, family members, and close friends and allies of LGBTQ people, said in a statement. “Despite the noise and disinformation that seems to surround us, ‘Learning with Love: the 2023 PFLAG National Convention’ is where advocates and supporters of LGBTQ+ people demonstrate that love truly is louder.”
Held in Washington, D.C. this year from October 20 to21, PFLAG’s biennial convention brings together hundreds of LGBTQ people, families, and allies for the purpose of providing advice, assurance, and emotional support to individuals who, by dint of their connections to the LGBTQ community, may find themselves targeted by anti-LGBTQ forces.
The convention takes place at a time when there has been a larger societal backlash against LGBTQ visibility or expressions of LGBTQ identity. Nearly two dozen states have passed laws imposing various restrictions on the LGBTQ community, often in the name of “parental rights” or “protecting children” from exposure to LGBTQ existence.
On Thursday morning, prior to the start of the convention, PFLAG members visited Capitol Hill offices to lobby members of Congress to either remain steadfast in their support of LGBTQ rights, or convince those with more hostile stances to challenge their bias.
On Friday afternoon, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden will speak at the opening of PFLAG’s convention, after which a panel of experts will discuss how LGBTQ people and their allies can support inclusive books and educational curricula at a time when many school boards and library boards are seeking to ban books or severely restrict texts with references to LGBTQ characters, historical figures, or plotlines.
Moderated by MSNBC’s Ali Velshi, the plenary discussion, “Let Freedom Read!” will delve into various censorship efforts and advise PFLAG members on how to push back against those actions.
The conference continues with workshops throughout the weekend, including what promises to be a scintillating conversation on transgender health care on Saturday. The plenary discussion, “Courageous Love in Trans Healthcare,” will examine recommended medical interventions for gender dysphoria, efforts to limit access to such treatments, and widespread disinformation about transition-related care.
Moderated by writer and transgender activist Charlotte Clymer, the panel will feature remarks from Admiral Dr. Rachel Levine, the Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Jesse Ehrenfeld, the president of the American Medical Association.
Earlier this week, Metro Weekly spoke with Bond to discuss how PFLAG members are pushing back against attempts to silence or erase the LGBTQ community.
METRO WEEKLY: Let’s discuss the upcoming PFLAG convention.
BRIAN BOND: So this is our convention, which we hold every two years. The theme for this year is “Learning with Love.” We will have approximately 400 PFLAG members coming in from across the country, from places like Alabama, Missouri, Mississippi, Florida, California, coast to coast.
We’re there to share, to learn, to support, and to empower our members, especially during these very challenging times. At the same time, we come together at this moment to celebrate PFLAG’s 50th anniversary, both our purpose of action and our service over the years, with the knowledge that we have a lot of work ahead of us right now.
MW: What are some of the conference highlights?
BOND: We are honored and thrilled to be kicking off our conference with Dr. Jill Biden, the First Lady of the United States, who I consider one to be an incredible advocate and ally. We’ve known her for years within our community. We will then lead into a thoughtful discussion, I believe it’s framed as “Let Freedom Read,” around book bans, school issues, everything that’s going on in many of the states right now. Ali Velshi is going to be the moderator, we’re thrilled to have the president of the American Library Association, and an author, as well as a efficacy organization that is a partner of ours on the ground to help our chapters push back against these book bans and other efforts to erase our community at the local level, at the school boards, library board levels.
MW: Let’s talk about some of those efforts to ban books or to censor information that’s in any way related to the LGBTQ community or gender non-conformity more broadly. In terms of the cry for “parental rights” that Republicans seem to have successfully weaponized to justify passing anti-LGBTQ policies, how do you push back against those arguments? Specifically, because your members include parents of LGBTQ people, how are you advising them to respond when they see this happen in their school districts?
BOND: Just to make it clear, this is not just an effort against our community. It is clearly an orchestrated effort against many communities. You’ve seen what many school districts are doing when it comes to race or something that should be as clear as the impacts of slavery. This is a systematic effort on the part of a well-organized and well-funded group to marginalize those communities that already feel marginalized.
From our perspective, what we do is try to work with our partners and our allies out there to ensure that our members have the tools they need to utilize their voices to speak out.
Our detractors have a loose [interpretation] of “parents’ rights.” They’re fine when it’s talking about issues that they push to marginalize our community, but they’re not so clear on parents’ rights when we’re trying to make sure that parents are able to ensure their kids have quality gender-affirming care. So it’s a very loose term that they use to their own benefit.
All we can do is continue to educate, advocate, and rise above that and to ensure our message gets out there. What I’m hearing from our members is that they are speaking out, trying to inform the public that, yes, every parent, and candidly, every child has the right to learn, the right to be a part of the process and not be excluded just because they may not agree on an issue.
MW: When you’re looking at some of these anti-LGBTQ bills or policies that are being introduced or adopted by school boards or library boards, what are you seeing in terms of the coordination on the other side versus the coordination among your members? And what are you doing to mobilize people beyond attending this conference? What’s the call to action?
BOND: That’s part of the reason that we are holding this first plenary. Our parents and our PFLAGers are showing up at the school board meetings, are showing up at the library boards, and often at some risk to themselves — I think that’s the other thing that we have to keep in mind.
Again, this is a well-organized, well-funded group against us that’s not just going after the LGBTQ+ community, but going after many communities at the same time. We are working with our allies to best equip our parents to be safe and to tell their story.
I think part of what is most effective about our community — and we saw this during “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” we saw this during [the fight for] marriage — is to tell our stories in authentic ways. That we are your neighbors, we are in your churches, your synagogues, your mosques, your temples, we are in your schools and that all our community members want is to be treated fairly and to be represented fairly.
And I think you’re seeing the community writ large come together, not just LGBTQ+, but those fair-minded individuals out there that are starting to say, “Enough is enough.”
MW: This is a significant milestone anniversary for PFLAG. How has the organization’s mission changed or evolved over that time period, and what do you see its purpose as now?
BOND: At the core, it is very much the same organization. We were started by a mom 50 years ago who stepped off the sidewalk and into the street in support of her kid. And that’s what you’re seeing parents do every day in this country, in support of equality for their kids and following our mission of creating a caring, just, and affirming world for LGBTQ+ people and those who love them. The core of our mission — and it’s our tagline, too –- is leading with love, and I think that’s the continuing thread throughout our history and what you’ll see moving forward.
MW: Why is this particular conference important?
BOND: Because there are people out there every single day doing their best — mostly as volunteers — to make this a better, safer, more equitable world. This is an opportunity for at least our folks to come together to celebrate that, to learn from each other, to hug each other, to empower each other, and get back out there and fight for our community.
MW: PFLAG primarily consists of parents, but we’re also seeing widespread involvement from youth, whether it’s holding rallies in Tallahassee, lobbying legislators in Austin, holding walkouts in protest of anti-LGBTQ policies, or hosting pop-up Pride events. What are you seeing in terms of LGBTQ youth engagement, and why do you think people are getting involved so young?
BOND: I see a couple of things when I’m out on the road, and I’m out on the road a lot. One, I see parents coming to PFLAG now, not so much from the perspective of “My gosh, my child may be LGBTQ+, what can I do?” but saying, “I support my kid, what can I do to help change the world?” That’s where we’re at right now.
Second, I encourage readers who aren’t from those spaces to go out into some of these communities. Again, just in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, an area that gave Trump over 70% of the vote, if not more, I saw kids on campus at their small university there and in the street for the Homecoming Parade — not the Pride Parade, the Homecoming Parade — walking proudly and out as LGBTQ people. These are fierce young people, and I’m learning every day from them. What we need to do is be there to support them and their passion.
MW: Why do you think there is more engagement among parents and youth nowadays? What’s led to that attitudinal change?
BOND: The overarching theme that I’ve heard from parents across the board is they have one job — keep their kids safe. There’s a fierceness there, there’s a need there now. There is a call to action for all of us, and not just LGBTQ+ people, but allies, to be out there to do like [our founder] Jeanne Manford, to step off the sidewalk into the street and fight for our community, to fight for, in some places, our very existence.
The PFLAG convention is Oct. 20-22 in Arlington, Va. at the DoubleTree Crystal City. The convention is sold out. Learn more about PFLAG and how to become involved at www.pflag.org.
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