Connecticut Voice

Your LGBTQ+ Voice

PFLAG Turns 50

By Kim Adamski


The year is 1969, and in New York City, tensions are running high in Greenwich Village. The NYPD has been repeatedly raiding the local gay bars, and the LGBTQ+ community were sick and tired of the harassment. On June 28, gay activist Morty Manford was enjoying a night at the Stonewall Inn when the police yet again began a raid on the bar. The patrons had had enough, and the now-famous Stonewall Uprising began.

This event intensified Morty’s commitment to gay rights activism, and later that year he founded the Gay Activist Alliance. One day in 1972, he participated in a protest seizing the stage at musical parody group Inner Circle’s annual dinner, where several anti-LGBTQ+ comedy skits were to be performed. A fight broke out, and Morty was beaten badly. Police did not intervene, and later his attacker was acquitted. This event pushed his mother, Jeanne Manford, to get involved in the movement. “I wasn’t going to let anybody walk over Morty,” she later said. She wrote a letter to the New York Post commending the publication for its coverage of the incident and stating, “I am proud of my son…and the hard work he has been doing.”

Jeanne became involved in gay rights activism alongside Morty, marching in the 1972 Christopher Street Liberation Day March. With Morty’s encouragement, she and his father Jules held the very first Parents of Gays meeting on March 26, 1973. It was attended by about 20 parents, and word spread quickly. Before long, parents from all over the country were calling Jeanne, asking her how they could start groups like hers in their communities.

By 1982, Jeanne’s meetings had blossomed into a national organization called Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Today, there are more than 350 PFLAG chapters across the United States. “Jeanne Manford…put it in people’s heads that gay and lesbian people had parents, that we were somebody’s children,” says writer Dan Savage. His own mother credits PFLAG with helping her understand her son’s sexual orientation and learn how to be more supportive. Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has also attended PFLAG meetings. He says parents join to do “what parents should do, which is care for their kids and keep their family together.”

Connecticut has PFLAG groups all over the state, including Hartford, Norwalk, Tolland-Mansfield, and Waterbury. PFLAG Hartford was founded in 1981 by Helen and Bob Brill. Helen, a longtime civil rights activist and high school teacher, moved to Connecticut with her husband after living in Los Angeles. The couple held the first PFLAG Hartford meeting at the West Hartford Society of Friends, a place of worship that still stands today. They served as the co-presidents of the chapter until 1989. Today, Hartford’s PFLAG chapter offers an annual Helen and Bob Brill scholarship to students entering higher education who are involved in LGBTQ+ advocacy, education, or support.

After the Brills stepped down from PFLAG leadership in 1989, Bob Calvin served as president of the Hartford chapter. He and his wife Marie helped the organization develop a board of directors and began a local PFLAG newsletter. Membership continued to grow.

In 1999, John and Becky Glezen became PFLAG Hartford’s co-presidents. In addition to their leadership of PFLAG, they also worked with local faith communities to create open and affirming churches and lobbied legislators to demand expanded LGBTQ+ rights. They served for 15 years before handing off the organizational presidency in 2014.

Today, PFLAG Connecticut has two co-presidents, Julieta Worley and Lindsey Pasquale. Julieta moved to Connecticut from Los Angeles in mid-2020 with her family. Just a few months prior, her oldest child came out as trans. The family was immediately accepting and supportive, but Julieta had never met a trans person before this and had lots of questions about how best to support her child.  After some research, she found PFLAG Hartford. It was exactly what she had been looking for: connection with other families in similar circumstances. Through the group, she received social and practical support and found the resources her family could use to help her child through their transition. Getting to know community members supporting their LGBTQ+ friends and family and how their loved ones were thriving assured her that her kid was going to be OK.

When the position of chapter president opened up, Julieta stepped up along with co-president Lindsey Pasquale. Lindsey, whose “queer history begins in 2014,”, has an extensive track record of advocacy since she began transitioning. In addition to being co-president of PFLAG Hartford, she is the Northeast Regional Director for PFLAG. Outside of PFLAG they have participated in and facilitated panels at Yale School of Medicine and Middlesex Hospital. She moderates several online spaces for trans folks and is a published writer.

Lindsey (who uses she/they pronouns) is also a spouse and parent who encourages people to “create the world you want to live in.”  She began living this motto when she joined PFLAG about a year after coming out as trans. PFLAG was a safe place for her. Lindsey found that they could make mistakes and focus on learning from them to better talk about and take action on trans issues, stepping into a facilitator role and subsequently becoming the organization’s treasurer. When the president role opened up, Lindsey took on that responsibility along with Julieta.

One of Lindsey’s strengths when working with people new to LGBTQ+ issues is that she’s able to understand different viewpoints. Up until 2015, she was registered to vote as a Republican, and as a result can navigate the political divide that others have difficulty bridging. She finds herself able to reach out to and educate people that LGBTQ+ activists often consider “unreachable.”

As affirming and educational as PFLAG has been for Lindsey and Julieta, both acknowledge that there are ongoing challenges. Even though PFLAG has been present in Hartford for many years, generating awareness for the organization has been challenging. Not everyone who could benefit from PFLAG meetings is aware the organization exists. Lindsey cites the need for “creating visibility while being invisible.” Lindsey describes this as getting services to the right folks while flying under the radar of individuals and groups who wish to intimidate LGBTQ+ groups and spread hate. It’s a bit of a challenge, but Lindsey and Julieta seem up for the challenge.

Last year, PFLAG Hartford threw a 50th anniversary celebration, which was a great success. Past and present PFLAG members attended, including the oldest chapter president and members from years ago.  Getting to 50 is a big accomplishment for an organization and requires constant evolution to meet the current needs of the LGBTQ+ community. PFLAG Hartford has weathered many storms. They have stayed strong in the face of the AIDS crisis, attacks on LGBTQ+ rights, and the COVID pandemic. With that level of strength, we can certainly expect to see them thrive for another 50 years.