Jeanne Manford, the founder of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and an all-around pioneering straight ally in the LGBT rights movement, has died at 92.
Manford died at her Daly City, Calif. home and had been in declining health for some time, daughter Suzanne Swan confirmed.
"She is known to thousands of people as the mother of the straight ally movement, but to me –- she was my mother," Ms. Swan said in an email statement. "She was someone who would always do the right thing, the good thing. She supported all people, and that meant so much to us growing up."
Born Jeanne Sobelson on Dec. 4, 1920 in Queens, N.Y., Manford became active on behalf of LGBT rights in 1972. One of Manford's sons, the late Morty Manford, was gay. He was beaten during a Gay Activists Alliance demonstration in April 1972, and police failed to intervene. She wrote a letter to the New York Post, published April 29, 1972, in which she stated, "I have a homosexual son, and I love him." Her letter sparked a groundswell of response, and less than two months later, she joined her son at the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade, carrying a placard stating "Parents of Gays: Unite in Support Of Our Children." The first meeting of PFLAG (which was then known as "Parents of Gays" or "POG") was held in New York's Metropolitan Community Church the following year. Her participation and the affirmations she received from others eventually led to the beginning of PFLAG.
PFLAG's executive director, Jody M. Huckaby, said the world had lost a pioneer with Manford's death. "Jeanne was one of the fiercest fighters in the battle for acceptance and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people," Huckaby said. "It is truly humbling to imagine in 1972 — just 40 years ago — a simple schoolteacher started this movement of family and ally support, without benefit of any of the technology that today makes a grassroots movement so easy to organize. No Internet. No cell phones. Just a deep love for her son and a sign reading 'Parents of Gays: Unite in Support for Our Children.'"
A private interment service will be held and details of a later celebration of Manford's life and legacy will be announced later. The family requests that any donations be made to the Jeanne Manford Legacy Fund to support the ongoing work of PFLAG National: 1828 L Street, NW, Suite 660, Washington, D.C. 20036.