Adele Starr, founder of the large Los Angeles chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, died in her sleep Friday night, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday. She was 90.
Starr founded PFLAG/LA in 1976 - a group that still marches in the annual Christopher Street West Pride Parade every year to grateful applause. Her efforts to education others about LGBT rights included speaking on the steps of the US Capitol during the historic 1979 national march in Washington DC. She became the organization's first national president in 1981 - with her den as national headquarters - just as former California Gov. Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency. She remained PFLAG president through the torturous early years of the AIDS epidemic when gay men such as her son were routinely vilified.
As a stay-at-home mother of five from Brentwood, she fought back and cajoled and sweet-talked whomever she encountered to get equal rights for her gay son, and by extension, the LGBT community. And she told parents it wasn't their "fault" their son or daughter was gay - a prevalent opinion at the time and a feeling of guilt she herself had overcome.
In response to an antigay move by conservatives to take over an Antelope Valley school board in 1995, Starr wrote a letter to the LA Times about how her gay son Phillip deserved the "same rights and freedoms as others," including the right to "legally marry the one he loves." The letter reads in part:
We cannot understand those arrogant people who have decided that a heterosexual lifestyle must be imposed on everyone and that they have a monopoly on morality...The American way is respect for diversity with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
At PFLAG's 10th anniversary conference, Starr explained her activism: "We did it out of love and anger and a sense of injustice, and because we had to tell the world the truth about our children."
Terry DeCrescenzo, founder of the Gay and Lesbian Adolescent Social Services and a friend of Starr's told The Times: "In that time, a lot of us lost hope. Not Adele. And PFLAG became enormously important because it was rock solid.... She was a good woman. She'll be missed."
PFLAG now has more than 200,000 in chapters across the county. Jody M. Huckaby, PFLAG National's Executive Director said in a statement posted on PFLAG's website:
Adele Starr was one of the pioneers of PFLAG. It is because of her commitment to organizing the many people who were working for the common goal of equality for all into the organization that we now know as PFLAG that we have gained the strength, prominence, and ability to become the voice of parents and allies united for equality.
Services will be held at noon Monday at Mount Sinai Hollywood Hills, 5950 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles.
Read additional tributes to Adele Starr from past PFLAG presidents.