“Sometimes, it’s the smallest decisions that change the course of history,” First Lady Dr. Jill Biden stated to the hushed crowd of attendees of the PFLAG annual convention on Friday, October 20 in Washington, DC. “The decision to dump tea off the side of ships in the Boston Harbor. The decision to refuse to sit in the back of the bus.” And, to a round of applause, “the decision to say, “enough is enough,” after repeated raids at a New York City gay bar. In 1972, Jeanne Manford decided to write a letter to the editor.”
That action would lead to an incredible effort in community organizing. 2023 marks the 50-year anniversary of the founding of PFLAG (formerly known as Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). Officially established by Jeanne Manford and a small group of parents of queer children in 1973, the organization has since blossomed into a hopeful and powerful advocacy group on behalf of LGBTQ+ youth.
At the 2023 annual convention, entitled “Learning with Love,” Dr. Biden opened the event to thank PFLAG and their over 325,000 supporters for “leading with love.”
“There is no more fundamental fight than the fight to be ourselves and love who we love,” she affirmed. She spoke of the unconditional love that PFLAG members have for their queer children. “To the world in the 1970s, this was radical.”
In the past years, PFLAG has expanded its membership base to include 400 total chapters, across the United States and 15 other countries.
Today, PFLAG is the plaintiff in four different lawsuits across the country – two in Texas, including PFLAG v. Abbott, one in Missouri, and another in North Carolina – to advocate for the rights of transgender youth to access gender-affirming healthcare.
The rousing speech was followed by the plenary “Let Freedom Read! Read with Love to Support Inclusive Books and Education.” Ali Velshi, host of the MSNBC “Banned Book Club,” led a panel discussion of three guests: author Arvin Ahmadi, President of the American Library Association (ALA) Emily Drabinski, and Red Wine & Blue’s Julie Womack.
In an enlightening yet sobering conversation on book bans, the group discussed the many different paths towards LGBTQ+ advocacy through literature. “You wouldn’t build a library collection for the public without having expertise,” said Drabinski. “Librarians are very committed to building a collection that has something in it for everyone in your community. For librarians, it is our job to get to know our community.”
Of the 13 most challenged and banned books recorded by ALA, seven are cited for LGBTQIA+ content.
“PFLAG is living proof that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world,” Dr. Biden said. “The world needs these small acts of love now more than ever.”
And starting is easy. “Firstly, make sure you have a library card,” Drabinski urged.
The full event was livestreamed and is available here.