The PFLAG ( formerly Parents Families and Friends of Lesbian and Gays ) Council of Northern Illinois meeting held at the Countryside Unitarian Church in Palatine, Illinois, Nov. 8, was a day in which emotions ran the gamut from tears to laughter.
An audience composed of more than 80 people representing an estimated 14 Northern Illinois chapters shared stories about their LGBT children, their courage and the enduring love of family from which grew acceptance and support both private and public. In keeping with one of the principal aims of PFLAG, the atmosphere of the day was as inviting as it was safe.
It was also one of change.
Retiring from a four-year position as PFLAG's national president, Rabbi David Horowitz declared to the audience that his tenure was "the greatest gig I've ever had.
"Being on the board for 12 years was phenomenal. I cannot begin to tell you how exciting [the past four years] have been. But I have always been and will continue to always be a PFLAG dad. I know that the heart of PFLAG is in your chapters and that's where we make a difference."
Off-stage, Horowitz told Windy City Times that PFLAG was in a state of growth and evolution as a national organization. "We're seeing much more work in the areas of advocacy," he said. "We're adjusting to some new realities. More and more people are coming into our chapters who are not in agony over the news that they have an LGBT child but rather coming and saying 'how can I help my LGBT child?' They are coming much younger than they ever did. That's an enormous shift in culture."
He also noted major corporationsincluding names such as McDonalds, Walmart and Marriottthat have invited PFLAG to present programs to their employees. "The list is so long, I can barely keep up," Horowitz admitted. "We're invited because we're seen as an allied family voice."
However, Horowitz conceded that Republican victories in the election earlier this month was of great concern to him. "We have been involved in governmental work on a national level all the way through the Obama administration," he said. "If the strength of a party that isn't supportive comes forward, a lot of that is in danger."
Horowitz will be succeeded by Jean Hodges of the Boulder County, Colorado, chapter. Hodges previously served as the chair of the regional director's council.
Both the changes and challenges ahead have cause PFLAG to modify their name. While the acronym will remain, "Parents Families and Friends of Lesbian and Gays" will be dropped in favor of something more inclusive. "We realized that non-family members didn't even know they could become part of PFLAG," Horowitz explained. "There are people who don't know anybody who is LGBT who want to get involved. But a big part of the change was that the name does not include the trans* community."
The decision comes as PFLAG now maintains a definitive transgender presence on their National Board while welcoming an increasing number of parents of transgender children into their membership.
Four such motherseach a member of the Parents of Transgender Individuals ( PTI ) grouppresented a panel discussion focusing upon issues faced by transgender children, basic terminology and how PFLAG chapters could align themselves to better support parents of trans* and gender nonconforming kids.
Led by Arlene Collins, panelists included Raina Hudson, G.S. and Z.Z.each parents of transgender boys and girls representing a wide range of ages. "The gender binary can be a tremendous obstacle," Collins said, holding back tears throughout her speech. "Some of the emotions that parents feel include guilt and that there is no one you can even talk to. But then you go to a PTI or a PFLAG meeting and there are other parents and they put their arms around you and say 'everything is going to be OK.' You may feel like you're losing a child but you're really gaining another child."
G.S. noted that, when her son came out, it was not a total surprise, but there were no nearby resources on hand to help. "My first reaction was sad," she said. "I was so sorry that my child had to suffer emotionally all these years and I didn't realize how hard it had been to go through puberty in the wrong body every day."
In terms of resources, Z.Z. was able to connect her child with staff at the Lurie Children's Hospital Gender & Sex Development Program. A portion of the extraordinary amount of research she and her husband completed on behalf of their young daughter was presented to the audience by way of a power-point demonstration.
Collins concluded her speech with a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment."
Other presentations included "Building Bridges with Faith Communities," led by Horowitz along with Countryside Unitarian Church Senior Minister Rev. Hilary Landau Krivchenia; and "How to More Effectively Tell Your Story," presented by PFLAG National Executive Director Jody Huckaby.
For more information about the PFLAG Council of Northern Illinois, visit www.pflagillinois.org .