By George T. Nicola, GLAPN
In early 1976, Portland parents Bill and Anne Shepherd joined with Rita and Charles Knapp in founding an organization to support their lesbian daughters. They initially called it Parents of Gays (POG) and set up a table at the local Pride rally to recruit additional members.
The following year, the Shepherds published their phone number on television and in a newspaper article, hoping to help LGBTQ people and their families. The phone immediately began ringing off the hook.
In 1982, POG became the Portland chapter of a national group called Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG). Its second president, Audria M. Edwards, was the first African-American in the nation to head a PFLAG chapter. She had four LGBTQ children and became a second mother to many others who were estranged from their families because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
By educating parents and guiding them to accept and love their LGBTQ children, PFLAG Portland has for many decades helped keep families together. Parents and friends have organized to assist their kids and support each other. PFLAG Portland has also advocated for LGBTQ people’s dignity, respect, and legal equality. The group has regularly challenged laws, school regulations, and community expectations to get a fair shake for the kids. The group has also worked with faith leaders and houses of worship to affirm and embrace all in the faith tradition. Today, PFLAG Portland is the original and still the largest of 13 Oregon PFLAG groups. About half the members are straight cisgender allies while the other half are LGBTQ.
In 2007, a new board of directors led by PFLAG mom President Dawn Holt refocused PFLAG Portland’s efforts on those most in need – youth, transgender individuals and their families, and communities of color. Dawn remains President today while her husband — PFLAG dad Shaun Simpkins — oversees its website, communications, and database.
Nine years ago, PFLAG Portland intentionally reached out to parents and leaders in the African-American community in support of what led to the creation of a new entity called PFLAG Portland Black Chapter (PPBC). PPBC is the first PFLAG group in the nation to be created by and for the African-American community. It has worked extensively to advocate for LGBTQ equality in the larger black community and facilitate the organization of gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in the schools.
Khalil Edwards, the energetic and skillful Coordinator of PPBC, is the son of Antoinette and Keith Edwards. Antoinette is one of PPBC’s founders, and Keith is a staunch supporter.
In 2013, PFLAG Portland Black Chapter added Youth Coordinator Leila Hofstein to expand their Youth Outreach Program and Support Development. In that role, Leila Hofstein has done an exceptional job working with the LGBTQ youth of our community.
Also in that year, PFLAG Portland was very fortunate in grant-making through its Mini-Grant program. They were able to extend a total of eight grants to very worthy organizations – two more than the previous year! Recipients in 2014 were Hosford Middle School, Outside In’s Queerzone, Jefferson High School, the GSA Youth Chorus, the Sexual and Gender Minority Youth Recreation Center in support of their holiday party and a gathering of Latino/a LGBTQ youth, Benson High School, and Madison High School.
PFLAG Portland has been serving the transgender community and their family members for many years. PFLAG chapters across the nation have recently seen a tremendous increase in trans people and their family members coming to PFLAG to better understand their trans-identified family members. PFLAG Portland has warmly embraced the trans community and is a leader in modeling how PFLAG can serve the needs of trans people and their families.
When LGBTQ young people are supported by their families, their risk for substance abuse, HIV infection, and even suicidality falls exponentially. So, PFLAG Portland is truly in the business of saving lives and preserving families. Caitlin Ryan’s groundbreaking work on families and LGBTQ youth have borne this out: http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/.
Two years ago, PFLAG Portland started a group that meets in Gresham — PFLAG Portland East County. They have already built membership and are creating community. The group’s Coordinators are Eric and Lurissa Overby, parents of a transgender daughter. PFLAG Portland Washington County launched on April 21 and meets in Beaverton. Patt Bekken is the group’s Coordinator.
In 2014, PFLAG Portland became the first LGBTQ organization to win the City of Portland’s prestigious Spirit of Portland Award in the recognition’s thirty-year history.
Every year the PFLAG National Network honors exceptional chapters in three categories: Support, Education, and Advocacy. Last year, the PFLAG Portland family of chapters shared the support award with PFLAG Columbia-Howard (Maryland) for its leadership in developing its network of community-responsive chapters to better serve the diverse Portland Metro area.
In 2014, Dawn Holt was appointed PFLAG’s Regional Director for Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho, and Alaska. In this role, Dawn has facilitated the establishment of numerous other chapters in small towns and rural districts that are not so LGBTQ friendly. In many instances, PFLAG is the only LGBTQ advocacy group that has ever existed in the area.
PFLAG Portland has been a beacon of love and hope for four decades.
More information on PFLAG Portland, please see their website www.pflagpdx.org. You can read its history at http://pflagpdx.org/wordpress/about-us/our-history/.