PFLAG Turns 50!
For fifty years, PFLAG has been where LGBTQ+ people, families, and allies have come together in pursuit of justice and affirmation—and always leading with love.
What began as a letter led to a march, which launched a meeting and birthed a movement of millions.
A Fair Chance
A Mother Marches
PFLAG is Born
50 Years of Leading with Love
April 29, 1972: “A Fair Chance”
Morty Manford helped found the Gay Activists Alliance, becoming becoming its president. It was in that role that Morty and others led a variety of protests, including one in 1972 at the 50th annual Inner Circle dinner, an event at the Hilton Hotel attended by reporters, which included dinner, celebration—and the performance of anti-LGBTQ+ skits and satire.
At the event, Morty and others participated in a “zap,” a form of direct activism popularized by the GAA. The zap was intended to gain attention for a city gay-rights law that the GAA wanted passed. The GAA distributed leaflets and seized the stage in an attempt to highlight the law, which the mainstream media was all but ignoring. When the GAA was ejected, a fight broke out. Michael Maye, president of New York City’s Uniformed Firefighters Assn., vehemently opposed the law. At the dinner, he beat Morty, with witnesses stating that they saw Maye throw Morty down an escalator, kicking and stomping him. Maye was acquitted of the assault; the law finally passed years later.
This April 15, 1972 event garnered some of the equality movement’s best media coverage and drew attention to anti-LGBTQ+ violence. It also inspired Morty’s mother, Jeanne. “I was furious,” Jeanne recalled to historian Eric Marcus. “I’m not the type of person who belonged to organizations. I never tried to do anything. But I wasn’t going to let anybody walk over Morty.”
Jeanne put pen to paper and wrote a letter, entitled “A Fair Chance” to the New York Post expressing her outrage at the incident; no parent had ever written such a letter before that was published in a major newspaper.”
The letter created a sensation.
June 25, 1972: A Mother Marches
Not long after her letter was published, Morty asked Jeanne to march with him at the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, which would take place a few months later on June 25, 1972. She agreed, as long as she could carry a sign that explained why she was there and marching.
Historian Eric Marcus says, “Looking back on her work as an activist, Jeanne didn’t think of herself as a radical or revolutionary. But others did.”
In an interview with Marcus, Morty said, “There was a calendar that somebody published, which I picked up over on St. Mark’s Place that next year. For each month it had a picture marking some occasion. For example…there was a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr., during this birthday month. And for June, guess who the calendar girl was?” Jeanne said, in the same interview, “Before Morty turned to June, I said, ‘This is not a true revolutionary calendar unless there is something about the gay march—about gays—for the month of June.’ And then when I turned the page, there was my picture. The irony, of course, is that I considered myself such a traditional person. I didn’t even cross the street against the light.”
But cross the street she did, many streets, in fact, as the march moved through Manhattan. Morty knew that her presence caused a stir—and inspired others to ask her for support, or ask her to support their own parents.
March 11, 1973: PFLAG is born
Morty urged Jeanne (and his father Jules, who was very much a part of the PFLAG story) to hold a meeting; without Morty’s encouragement it likely would never have happened. And Morty knew, as a smart activist, that Jeanne and Jules HAD to be the ones to start the group; it could not be Morty because it needed parents and families – ALLIES – to meet other people, potential allies, where they are and bring them along. Without Jeanne and Jules, PFLAG could never have happened.
The first meeting of what is now known as PFLAG took place on March 11, 1973 at the Metropolitan-Duane Methodist Church in Greenwich Village (now the Church of the Village). Approximately 20 people attended including Jeanne, Morty, and Jules Manford, Dick and Amy Ashworth and their sons Tucker and Everard, and Bob and Elaine Benov.
The site of the first meeting is now marked with a plaque, placed by PFLAG National in partnership with our friends at the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (Village Preservation).
To continue reading the rest of PFLAG history, please visit this post by PFLAG National!