Almost a decade ago, when Kate McGuire Kroker and her husband Phil walked with the Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) chapter in Chicago at the annual Gay Pride Parade, they didn’t really know what it was they were doing. They also hadn’t told their daughter, Mata, their plan.
“We met up with the PFLAG group at Belmont and Broadway,” says Kroker, 64. “When Mata saw us, it was a very emotional day. Had we known how important it is for people to walk together in support of their gay and lesbian children, we would have been doing it before that. We’ve gone back to march with PFLAG every year since.”
According to its website, PFLAG began in 1972 when an enraged Jeanne Manford marched with her son Mortie in New York’s Gay Pride Parade after he had been beaten at a gay rights protest two months earlier while police did nothing. Today, the PFLAG movement has grown to more than 500 chapters nationwide with over 200,000 members, supporters, and affiliates, representing the largest chapter network in the struggle for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) people’s rights.
PFLAG came to Oak Park in 2001 when Sylvia and Gy Menninga founded a chapter at Pilgrim Community Church. The group later moved to First United Church of Oak Park for accessibility reasons. Now it meets there the last Sunday of the month.
“When I saw Gy and Sylvia as I was walking up the stairs to my first PFLAG meeting, I almost couldn’t go in the door because I thought, ‘oh my God, I know that neither of their kids are gay,'” Kroker says. “Well, I thought I should go in and tell them anyway, because I knew if they couldn’t accept it, nobody could.”
At that PFLAG meeting Kroker quickly learned that her old family friends’ son (Mata’s best friend growing up) was gay, and it wasn’t really a big deal for Kroker after that because when a child comes out of the closet, a parent does, too.
“I have this huge family, and when Mata came out in her early 20s she wrote a letter to every one of my siblings, and her cousins at their level, planning it so they all got the letter on the same day,” Kroker says. “We knew that if there would be any negative feedback we were all going to be losing relatives. Mata did it because she had met this girl and there was a family wedding coming up. They were very welcomed to that event, and have been welcomed to every family gathering ever since.”
Three years ago, in an effort to reach out to the suburban LGBT community, Oak Parker Aurora Pineda decided to launch a pilot Spanish speaking group, PFLAG en Español: Entre Familia (i.e. among family). She was affiliated with Amigas Latinas, a Chicago-based support, education and advocacy organization for Latina lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning women, and convinced them to partner with the Association of Latino Men for Action (ALMA) to co-sponsor the suburban chapter. Originally, PFLAG en Español: Entre Familia was launched in Cicero, but meetings are currently conducted in Oak Park and Chicago.
“My parents especially have been doing things that they themselves would never have imagined doing,” says Pineda, a case manager for adolescents and young adults with HIV, “like talking to the media, and speaking to groups, even though they only speak Spanish. They don’t think it is a big deal because they don’t realize the impact they are having.
“Sometimes, when my parents have spoken in front of people, Latinos in the audience come up to them and actually cry. My parents say they are just doing it because they love me, and want people to know that nothing is wrong with being a lesbian, because it is what I am, and they are comfortable with it.”
While many of the parents in her PFLAG group aren’t ready to march in the Gay Pride Parade this weekend, she believes that this year she and her parents will.
“It is harder coming out in our culture,” Pineda says. “Within the Latino community, sexual orientation and gender expression are very taboo subjects. One of the things that I’ve learned not only from myself, but from other parents who come to the group, is that when we come together, we give each other energy to go back out there and deal with the people who are talking bad about being gay or lesbian. For those 3 hours we are together, there is no negativity. It is all positive, and we are a family.”
-Deb Quantock Mccarey