This past weekend, I had the good fortune to attend the 2011 National PFLAG Convention in Arlington, VA. I represented, along with another member, the Indianapolis Chapter of PFLAG. I spent four exciting days seeing old friends, making new ones, hearing politicians share their views for equality, attending workshops, and meeting a celebrity's mom!
We arrived in Arlington on Thursday afternoon. I immediately called Bil and Jerame because I hadn't seen them since they left Indiana. They invited my friend and I to join them at a Vietnamese restaurant - they met us at the subway and we walked to the restaurant. It was great to catch up with my old friends!
PFLAG had arranged a Lobby Day for members on Thursday, but we had decided not to attend. So for us, the convention began on Friday, November 4th, when PFLAG National President Rabbi David Horowitz opened the Annual Meeting.
Rabbi Horowitz stated that the best way to educate and advocate is to tell our stories. As parents, we are in a unique position to change peoples' hearts and minds. Rabbi Horowitz then introduced Vice-President and Regional Director Chair Jean Hodges. Jean told us that 21 states have a State Coordinator, and there are 11 Regional Directors. These coordinators and directors are the link between the local chapters and the National office. They work with the PFLAG staff and support and help new chapters to grow, visit with and encourage chapters and offer webinars and mentor leadership. Vice-President Peggy Moore gave us some statistics. PFLAG has 875 chapter members and 282 chapter leaders. Membership is about 60% straight, 95% Caucasian, and the largest group is ages 55-65. Chapters work on advocacy, Safe Schools, marriage equality, equal employment, anti-bullying, and faith and transgender issues. I was glad to hear these statistics so I could see what other chapters across the country are doing.
Jody Huckaby, National Director, gave his gratitude to the PFLAG members and said the wonderful PFLAG staff exists because of the members' work. Jody said that he meets with chapter membership and learns from our challenges. He also said the staff is here for us.
There were a few plenaries to attend, but the most exciting was the first, which included speakers Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden, Congressman Barney Frank and Congressman Jerrold Nadler. Dr. Biden, who is an educator, reiterated PFLAG's vision of equality and respect for the LGBT community. Congressman Nadler spoke of the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell and However, I particularly was excited to hear Congressman Frank. I've always admired him, and he didn't disappoint. He began by stating that the LGBT Radical Agenda consists of "getting married, having children, and joining the Army." He said that if a Republican president and Congress gets elected, they can bring back "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." However, he also said that in about six years, people will see LGBT people successfully in the Armed Forces and that will help as they get used to it.
Congressman Frank also said that the gains the LGBT community made were because they let people know who they were. He said that at the beginning of the movement, demonstrations were the way to go. Now we have to use political methods to gain rights. He also said that if you're involved in a cause and you're having too good a time, you're doing it wrong. That one really made me think! He said that parents have every right to love their kids and that as people get used to "out" LGBT people, discrimination diminishes. Another comment he made is that we need to pass an inclusive ENDA - which includes the transgender community. Finally, he said that we need to tell our politicians that we won't vote for them if they're not for LGBT rights. Our agenda should be FULL EQUALITY!
It was wonderful to hear these three major players in government give voice to LGBT equality and how important PFLAG is to this movement. I'm so grateful that we have these advocates in Washington!
I attended some very worthwhile workshops. One was titled "Creating Thriving Chapters: How to Attract, Develop and Retain Members." This workshop was facilitated by Brooke Senter, Field and Policy Manager of the Central Region. I learned many wonderful tips on how to help my chapter grow and how to get more members to get involved.
Another exciting workshop was "Supporting Distressed Parents - Now What Do I Say?" led by Dr. Michael LaSala, a psychotherapist in private practice and educator at Rutgers University. Dr. LaSala gave us many helpful ideas on how to talk to parents who have just learned their child is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender and are having a difficult time. I really enjoyed this workshop because I answer our chapter's hotline and needed some guidance from a professional.
I went to a workshop titled "The Care & Feeding of Straight Allies: Creating Effective Programs for PFLAG Chapters" led by Jean-Marie Navetta, PFLAG National Director of Equality & Diversity Partnerships. PFLAG recognizes that the fight for LGBT equality cannot be done alone and that we need straight allies to join us. This workshop gave us many ideas and resources on how to attract and engage straight allies.
The last workshop I attended was "Why Marriage Matters: Messages that Really Work!" Lanae Erickson, Deputy Director of Domestic Policy Program, Third Way; and Regina Clemente, Field Director, Freedom to Marry, were the facilitators of this program. I particularly wanted to attend this workshop because Indiana is facing a Marriage Discrimination Amendment and we need all the help we can get. Lanae and Regina spoke about how to talk to the "Mushy Middle" - people who we have a chance to influence. We saw some videos and learned what kind of messages will resonate best with the public. I'm hoping that Freedom to Marry will be there when we begin to fight HJR-6 in Indiana.
There were many other workshops offered in the areas of Advocacy, Chapter Development & Growth, Faith, Providing Support, Schools, Skills Building, and Working With Transgender People and their Families. I was very impressed with the range and expertise of the presenters - there was something for everyone!
The PFLAG National Awards Dinner took place on Saturday night. The Starr Award, named after the first PFLAG National President Adele Starr, was given to Nancy McDonald, past National President and member of the Tulsa chapter. This award is given to an individual within the PFLAG membership who has made special personal contributions to PFLAG and its mission. The PFLAG Flag Bearer Award, given in ackowledgment of the accomplishments of non-PFLAG individuals, business and organizations, was given to Heartland Clergy for Inclusion. This organization is comprised of Christian clergy from all over the country who sign a proclamation which embraces the full inclusion of LGBT people in church life.
The most exciting part of the evening for me, however, was when Jody Huckaby brought the evening's keynote speaker to where I was sitting and introduced me to her - Betty DeGeneres, Ellen's mother! Betty was to be the first recipient of The Betty DeGeneres Advocate Award, which recognizes the important role that parents have in fulfilling PFLAG's mission. It was so wonderful to meet her - she's a warm and caring woman - Ellen is fortunate to have such a supportive mother! I also had the good opportunity to have my photo taken with her! And at the end of the evening, I asked for and received her autograph!
On Sunday morning I was too tired to attend the last workshop. I sat at breakfast with some PFLAG people from Iowa. We spoke about many things, including our struggle here in Indiana with the Marriage Discrimination Amendment. They promised they would contact me and give me some ideas on how to defeat this discriminatory bill.
The final plenary was "Thinking Diversely About Faith, Equality and Action." A panel consisted of Imam Daayiee Abdullah, a scholar, former public interest lawyer and a specialist in Shari'ah Sciences/Quranic Interpretation; Reverend Gilbert H. Caldwell, a retired United Methodist Minister; Rabbi David M. Horowitz, PFLAG National President and rabbi emeritus of Temple Israel in Akron, Ohio; Reverend Dr. Julie Nemecek, one of Michigan's leading voices on transgender issues, and board member of Soulforce, PFLAG, and TransYouth Family Allies; and Reverend Dr. Joseph Palacios, who is the Director of the Catholics for Equality Foundation.
Jean-Marie Navetta, PFLAG Director of Equality & Diversity Partnerships, moderated and asked the panel five questions. She first asked the panel if they feel there is inclusion in faith. Rev. Gilbert stated that they need to focus on the positive and there are those within the tradition who are for equality. Rev. Dr. Palacios stated that Catholic citizens use social justice practices of faith to push equality forward and that they know there is dignity in every person. He said that in the last poll, over 50% of Catholics are for gay marriage. He said it is the Vatican who pushes anti-gay views. Rev. Julie said that in Evangelicalism there are open and affirming churches. She said many people take the bible literally, but in reality it is not to be taken literally. She also said it's a myth that you can't be gay and Christian - people need to stand up in church and say that they are gay or have gay kids.
The second question asked if there is a generational change? Rabbi Horowitz stated that there is a generational change taking place, and that most Jews in the various movements, except Orthodoxy, are inclusive. Imam Abdullah said that younger people are more supportive. They are past the issues but not aware of the history. They have to be taught that they need to be involved in other people's needs. Rev. Julie said that the divide between old and young is moving rapidly and that big changes are occurring in the universities. She said that PFLAG needs to invite these students to our meetings and talk about our perspective. She also said that young voices will be heard in their local churches and that they want inclusive churches. In order to grow, these churches will have to be inclusive.
The third question asked "How Much of a Role Does Politics Change Your Religious Landscape?" Rev. Caldwell said that we must be advocates of and support the Constitution. Rev. Dr. Palacios said that American Catholics used to be excluded from political life, but today Catholics represent 30% in Congress. He also said that the support of LGBT rights is a pro-life matter and care of the whole person - everyone deserves full human rights. Imam Abdullah said that Islamophobia and homophobia are both sides of the same coin. We need to learn about the "other" and that we need to meet Muslims - reach out to their community and invite them to PFLAG meetings. He said in that way people can find a connection.
"Are Religious Leaders Shaping These Issues" was the fourth question. Rev. Caldwell said that African-Americans want to preserve the civil rights movement. He stated that Jim Lawson, a leader in the African-American community, said that all children need to be accepted by their families. Rabbi Horowitz said that the Jewish community is already working for equality and that most rabbis have joined with coalition. He said that the biblical authors didn't have the same experiences that we have and that we need to move our intellect forward. He also said that there is no justification in saying that these rights (same-sex marriage) should not be given to all people. Imam Abdullah said that not many imams are working toward LGBT equality. There are some gay imams but they're afraid to come out and are scared that their jobs will be taken away. He said that imams fail to stand up for the gay community.
Finally, the panel was asked to suggest resources and one action item. Regarding resources, Rev. Julie mentioned two: The Canyon Walker Connection and Evangelicals Concerned. Rabbi Horowitz said that PFLAG is working on Straight for Equality in the Faith Community. He also mentioned Keshet, an LGBT Jewish organization, as well as the books "Wresting with God and Men" by Rabbi Steven Greenberg; "Balancing the Mechitza" by Noah Dzimora; and "Twice Blessed" by Christie Balka. Rev. Dr. Palacios gave us the website www.Catholicsforequality.org. He also mentioned Dignity, a Catholic group for parents. Rev. Caldwell referred us to Recognizing Ministries and Truth in Progress. Imam Abdullah gave us MPVUSA.org, "Jihad for Love", "Gender Me", "Gender Jihad", and the film "Balloon for God."
Regarding action items, there were very good suggestions. Rev. Julie said people need to seek dialogue about being Christian and find people in your community who are Evangelicals. She said LGBT people want a place where they can worship as Christians. Rabbi Horowitz said that each chapter needs to take programs into their congregations. He said we need to choose life and change the hearts and minds of members of each congregation. Rev. Dr. Palacios said the Jesuit practice is that we have to take care of the whole person. If you have full rights, then you have a vision for yourself and a calling from God to fulfill your life. He said Catholics need to talk to their politicians. And Rev. Caldwell said that we need to tell our stories - how we moved from one place to another.
At the end of the plenary, Rabbi Horowitz introduced the National PFLAG staff, who did a fabulous job putting the convention together. He also thanked all the PFLAG members present for attending the convention and asked them to share with the group what they enjoyed most about the weekend. I got up and thanked all the people I met for the support and help they promised they would give me as we fight HJR-6.
I am so grateful that I was able to attend this convention and thankful to the National PFLAG staff for the wonderful job they did. Jody Huckaby and Rabbi Horowitz are wonderful leaders, and with PFLAG members all across the nation, I know that we will soon achieve our dream for full equality for our children.