Annette Gross

Dispatches From the PFLAG National Convention

Filed By Annette Gross | November 04, 2013 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: parents of gay kids, PFLAG, PFLAG convention, straight allies, Washington D.C.

pflag_logo.pngI recently returned from the 2013 PFLAG National Convention held at the Mayflower Renaissance Hotel in Washington, D.C. from October 25-27. This is the third convention I've attended and they continue to inspire and motivate me.

After I arrived early Friday morning, October 25th, got situated in my room, and caught up with my roomie Michele, we went downstairs to the annual meeting. The title of this year's Convention was "One Voice Can Change the World: Honor the Legacy. Inspire the Future." We saw a video honoring the legacy of PFLAG founder Jeanne Manford and how she stood up for her gay son at a time when it was not the customary thing to do.

After hearing from National PFLAG Executive Director Jody Huckaby, we then broke for lunch, which was followed by the opening meeting. Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty (CT-5) was the keynote speaker. She spoke of her mother, PFLAG National President Emeritus Mitzi Henderson, who struggled with her faith when her son, Rep. Esty's brother, came out in the late 1970's. She also talked about her ongoing work to support our families regarding workplace fairness and safe schools.

The first plenary session and regional meetings followed the opening meeting. In the evening, PFLAG premiered the new film Bridegroom, and I was so excited to see it that I cancelled dinner plans with friends. More about Bridegroom, and the rest of the convention, after the jump.

Bridegroom tells the story of Tom Bridegroom and Shane Bitney Crone, two young men who fell in love, formed a beautiful partnership, traveled the world together, and ultimately experienced terrible tragedy. While living in L.A., Tom fell off of a 7-story building and died. Shane, as his partner, was denied access to Tom in the hospital and was not allowed to attend his funeral.

horowitz_crone_huckaby_bridegroom_pflag.JPGShane posted a video on YouTube describing his awful grief. Producers Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason learned of the story and produced a documentary about Tom and Shane. The film was very moving and there was not a dry eye in the house! Following the film, we had the opportunity to hear Shane speak and ask him questions, and have photos taken with him.

It was difficult getting up Saturday morning, but I made it to the first Wwrkshop of the day where Jean-Marie Navetta helped us learn how to tell our stories in "(Effectively) Sharing Your PFLAG Story to Transform Hearts and Minds." Some of us were invited to tell our story before the group in 2 minutes or less. We were then critiqued by the group members so we could learn what we did well and what we could do better.

The second plenary was "Power Without Presence: How the Past Inspires the Future." Bob Witeck, President and Founder of Witeck Communications, facilitated a panel that discussed the groundbreaking contributions of pioneers Bayard Rustin and Alan Turing to the course of history as members of the LGBT community, and the challenges of documenting and curating a history that is literally missing from most records.

The panel also hailed the positive signs of change including the recently-enacted California FAIR Education Act and other policy advantages that are boosting awareness, visibility, and the many contributions made by LGBT people.

During the day, I found time to take a walk up to Dupont Circle. I headed for the HRC Store where I bought a mug and a bumper sticker for my car. While there I spoke with the clerk, a young man who shared with me that after he came out, his parents threw him out. The worst though, was that he is not allowed to see his little sister until he "changes." Stories such as these break my heart and I had to give him a big hug.

The next workshop I attended was led by Dr. Michael LaSala of Rutgers University. Dr. LaSala uses the REACH model to help us learn how to build listening skills, as well as to know when to speak and when to remain quiet. REACH stands for Reflection, Empathy, Assessment, Coping, and Hope. I found this workshop particularly important because as one of the facilitators in our chapter, I often struggle with what to say to a parent who is extremely upset. I am going to share these skills with the other facilitators in my chapter and perhaps even invite a local psychologist to help us further our facilitating skills.

The Gala Dinner on Saturday evening is one of the highlights of the PFLAG conventions. Awards are given to chapters and members in different categories and it's wonderful to learn about the wonderful work that chapters are doing across the country.

The dinner was particularly special for me because the Indianapolis PFLAG chapter won the 2013 National PFLAG Award for Education for our participation in the "You Have A Purpose Project" Facebook page. The video that our chapter made was shown and I was very proud to accept the award for our members. I shared the background of how the project came into fruition, and I also invited the guests to create their own videos.

Indy_PFLAG_award.jpgJan Nichols, Indianapolis PFLAG Co-President, and Betty Lynch, Indianapolis PFLAG Treasurer, also attended the dinner and all three of us were thrilled to receive this award for our chapter!

Following the dinner, I raced upstairs, changed clothes, and took a cab to visit Bil and Jerame. They were hosting a birthday dinner for Michael Knaapen and I wanted to meet him and his husband John Becker. I arrived just in time to sing Happy Birthday to Michael and enjoy some of his birthday cake.

We shared stories and laughed a lot and I had a really good time! I'd known John through Bilerico and Facebook for a long time so it was great to finally meet him and Michael in person!

Sunday was the last day of the convention. I dragged myself to the final workshop, which for me was "Talking to Republicans About the Freedom to Marry," led by Tyler Deaton from Freedom to Marry. This workshop was very relevant for me and the two other members of my chapter because Indiana is facing a state constitutional ban of same-sex marriage (HJR-6). Freedom to Marry is also one of the partners of the Freedom Indiana coalition, so I am glad we attended this session.

As Tyler went through his PowerPoint presentation, I was surprised and happy to see the words "Moms for Freedom" on the screen! This part of the Freedom Indiana campaign had just been launched the day before. Five moms of LGBT children are featured and share their stories of why Equality is important to them and why they oppose HJR-6. (I am one of the moms so I was particularly proud!)

Marriage equality is a bipartisan issue and it was important to learn the tools we need to discuss it with Indiana's Republican legislators.

For me, the highlights of the convention were not only gaining new skills, learning more about the work that PFLAG does and about LGBT issues, but seeing old friends and meeting new ones. The convention is a wonderful opportunity to network, learn what other chapters are doing, and share ideas and strategies.

This was my third PFLAG National Convention and I am already looking forward to the next one. I want to extend my thanks to National President Rabbi David Horowitz, National Executive Director Jody Huckaby, and the amazing PFLAG staff who do so much to help us all do our jobs as we attempt to bring equality and compassion to the states in which we live.

Photos: PFLAG logo; PFLAG National President Rabbi David Horowitz, Shane Bitney Crone, and PFLAG National Executive Director Jody Huckaby at premier of Bridegroom ; Indianapolis PFLAG winning the National PFLAG Award for Education.

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