Seattle PFLAG – The Early Years
by Arleen Nelson
On a Sunday afternoon, in January 1979, meeting over coffee and tea, Seattle PFLAG was born. Five mothers met to get to know each other and share experiences. They decided they could support their gays sons and lesbian daughters by forming a support group for parents, siblings, and other relatives of gays and lesbians. After a lot of discussion, they added Friends and thus chose the name Families and Friends of Lesbian and Gays. Seattle kept this name until the group formally incorporated on its own in 1985.
On that Sunday afternoon, the mothers chose the third Sunday in February, at 7:00 P.M. as the date and time for their first meeting. Bev (Harvey) Coco arranged for us to meet at St. Patrick’s church in the Roanoke neighborhood. Shirley Kurtz created flyers and distributed them on community bulletin boards, replacing them as they disappeared. Arleen Nelson wrote press releases and/or cover letters. Doris Wood helped us mail our press releases and/or cover letters to all the daily newspapers in the Puget Sound area, to many weekly newspapers, to all listed television and radio stations, and to social service and mental health agencies and gay/lesbian groups that we could identify. Doris headed the effort to provide coffee, tea, and cookies.
The fifth mother, Mona, supported our project but could not directly help because she was moving from the area. This was a loss for us, since Mona lived in Bremerton and would probably have started PFLAG there shortly after we did in Seattle.
At our first meeting (on that Sunday in February), the four mothers were joined by another mother, Lorraine Lee, a grandfather, and the director of the ACLU, who brought two young gay men (in their first year of college) who needed parental support. We knew we had found our mission.
Monthly meetings have been held without interruption since that first meeting until the present, even though only one parent was there in July 1979. The monthly meetings always included a time for stories. As the group grew in numbers, we broke into smaller groups to allow everyone to share as needed. For two years, from 1982 to 1984, meetings were held on the 4th Monday as well as the 2nd Monday, which we chose in 1979 to be our primary meeting time. The nd Monday meeting has endured to this day. The first meeting remained the support and sharing meeting, while the second meeting included speakers, panels, and discussion groups related to our goals. Preparing for and dealing with the results of coming out has always been a frequent topic, as well as many other topics related to homosexuality. When we returned to the one-meeting-per-month schedule, we expanded our format to include both the speakers and the sharing in one meeting.
Another project was our Help Line, started in late Spring 1979. Doris Wood handled the primary Help Line effort for 11 years, while others took over briefly from time to time to give her much needed breaks. Doris has earned our deep gratitude for her devotion to that vital part of Seattle PFLAG.
As our presence became known, Gay and Lesbian organizations invited us to be involved in many ways: as speakers, as members of their boards, as participants on special projects, and so forth. We were asked to be speakers and to appear on panels by school groups, ranging from high school and college
health classes to university Gay/Lesbian student groups. We were asked to chaperone the first Lesbian/Gay Prom at the University of Washington. Looking back, it is amazing how much we accomplished from the time of our first meeting to 1985, when we realized that we were outgrowing our meeting space and organizational structure.
In April 1979, the Church Council of Greater Seattle had included us as part of their Task Force for Gays and Lesbians. They gave us their conference room for our meetings, as well as other services. With this support, we operated by consensus with a rather informal structure. Anyone who wished could help us with our projects. Four mothers (in addition to the four original mothers) were involved for most of this time: Lorraine Lee, Gretchen DeRoche, Nisha McGee, and Jan Stollee Johnson. We accepted all invitations for speakers, developed written handouts, collected appropriate recourses, and networked both locally and nationally. We raised money to cover all our expenses, including the scholarship for National Conventions, starting with the initial organizational meeting of The Federation of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and the first convention the following year in Los Angeles.
Jan Stollee Johnson edited a bimonthly newsletter for two years, while many others briefly helped on it. We held a special educational meeting in October 1979. Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D., Bill Cates, DD, and Harold Johnson, MD, spoke in support of homosexuality from a social, a psychological, and a religious perspective. The meeting had to be delayed so we could set up chairs for twice the expected number of attendees. We also held an all-day workshop in March 1980, as well as fund raisers such as an old-fashioned pancake breakfast, a trendy dessert party, and so forth.
As mentioned earlier, our representative attended the organizing meeting of PFLAG. We were a charter chapter. Our representative became the first Director of the Pacific Mountain Region to 1983 and one of the national vice presidents in 1989. Our chapter became so active at the national level that we hosted the Eleventh Annual Convention in 1992. Well into the 1990′s we were always represented by two or more members at all national conventions and conferences except one. Our historic participation in national and regional activities continued after we incorporated.
As mentioned earlier, by mid 1985 we were outgrowing our space, and we needed to step out on our own as a separate entity, in order to continue to meet our aims and goals. With incorporation, the early days came to a close and Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays gave way to Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Seattle Chapter.