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A mom's fascinating journey to PFLAG advocacy

SAN DIEGO, California -- Maybe most people don’t go to the Gay Pride Parade to watch the members of PFLAG go by, but they should. Jeanne Manford started PFLAG, formerly known as Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays, in 1972. Her son, a gay activist, was beaten for passing out flyers in New York City.

Fast-forward to today and PFLAG is still going strong with over 350 chapters and 200,000 members across the United States with one right here in San Diego. Their mission is clear and straightforward, to celebrate diversity and envision a society that envisions everyone.

Terrie Vorono, San Diego chapter PFLAG president, had a very interesting start with PFLAG and as she describes it she has her parents to thank for that.

“My parents took me to an adult education class where PFLAG representatives were speaking,” Vorono said. “I went to my first PFLAG meeting after that, I and went to a board meeting after my second or third meeting. I joined the Speakers Bureau and was hooked as I saw people's expressions change as we spoke about our loved ones. People are generous in expressing their appreciation after we speak, and I could see that lives were changing from the stories we shared.

Vorono explained that before she had her own kids, she decided that if God needed a mother for a gay child, she wanted it to be her and she got her wish.

“I am the mother of two sons whom I adore,” Vorono said. “My older son, Ben, moved to London, England, and his brother, Jake, went to visit him. Ben came out by kissing his boyfriend while in a gay club in London. He knew Jake would tell me, and he did. I called Ben to say I loved him, that it did not change anything for me that he was gay. I realized that if my son had a hard time saying the words ‘I am gay’ that a lot of work needed to be done in our society to allow people to live freely as their authentic selves.”

Vorono took that as a sign to help her son and others. She hopes that someday everyone, from all walks of life, will be able to walk through life freely without feeling judged

“I went to PFLAG to help educate myself on how to support my son, and a beautiful new world opened up for me,” Vorono said. “Having a gay son is a gift that has introduced me to so many passionate individuals, and I like being around people who are working to bring understanding, compassion, and enlightenment to the world. I want my son and everyone else's child to move freely in the world without judgment.”

The San Diego chapter of PFLAG partakes in Gay Pride every year, and members get some of the loudest cheers from the hundreds of thousands of people lining the streets for the parade. This year they will have a marching contingency as well as a booth at the festival at Balboa Park, but that’s not the only event they participate in throughout the year as Vorono explained.

“During the year we send members to most any event we hear about,” Vorono said. “Out by the Beach in Oceanside, Out by the Bay, Out at the Fair, local street fairs in Santee and Poway, Youth Empowerment Summit, GLSEN GSA awards, and Safe Schools Summit, Big Gay BBQ at SDSU, etc. We are at several events a month.”

Vorono also points out that PFLAG encourages them to be advocates, and that when you no longer need PFLAG, PFLAG needs you.

“We recognize the value of our voices in promoting change,” Vorono added. “We want everyone to know that we are here and available to listen and offer support and guidance.”