Prizm News / July 29, 2019 / By Ilona Westfall

Photo by Tom Falcone

The Cleveland chapter of PFLAG holds strong in its fourth decade of advocacy and support

When the Cleveland Chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) debuted 34 years ago, the landscape for LGBTQ+ rights was markedly different. The group still sticks to its primary mission to provide support via group meetings, host educational activities at Northeast Ohio employers and universities, and promote advocacy by sponsoring special events and presenting awards. But the needs of the community have most definitely started to shift. Cleveland Chapter PFLAG President Tom Falcone fills us in on how the group has changed over time and shares some insight on how LGBTQ+ allies and family can support their loved ones. 

How has the work PFLAG does changed over time in order to stay relevant?

PFLAG was started for parents dealing with kids coming out as gay and lesbian. Now we’re seeing more transgender issues at our meetings. Families who are trying to deal with the fact that they have a child that is questioning their gender identity, moving ahead with gender reassignment and stuff like that. They have questions of how to deal with their children, they have a lot of fears, they have a lot of questions of the unknown. We offer a safe place to support you wherever you’re at on that journey. We help people understand what their trials are, and help them to accept it and to be able to normalize their lives again. Also, we are getting a lot more calls from companies wanting us to come and explain who we are. A lot of places are trying to be more inclusive of LGBTQ+ employees by starting Employee Resource Groups. I did one at Nestle, we’ve done one at Eaton. We just had a table down in Geauga County for the job and family services services department with their social work staff. 

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What advice would you give the friends and family of someone just coming out on how to support their loved one?

To accept their child and try hard to use their pronouns. A lot of parents have a hard time with that, especially for nonbinary folks that are using “they, them, their.” We recommend they make sure to tell their child they support them. But the child has to understand while they’ve been dealing with this for a long while, their parents or friends are just starting their journey. So the child has to learn to be a little lenient too, of the slip-ups while their parents are trying. We have this saying at PFLAG that once the child comes out, the parents go in the closet. They start going through the whole thing the child is going through. Are we going to lose friends or family? What are my parents gonna say? 

What can allies who have already gone through this journey do to help?

Tell your story. A lot of times people think they’re the only one. It’s a liberating feeling that comes from the fact you’re not the only one going through this. Be willing to share your story and be supportive and let them know that things will be okay. And if something comes up where transgender or gay people are being bashed or talked about in a negative light, just lightly step up and support. You don’t even have to come out and say, “Hey, my son’s gay.” But if you say, “Hey, people are people,” those are the things that help people realize they have allies. 

To learn more about the Cleveland Chapter of PFLAG, go to http://www.pflagcleveland.org/

Ilona Westfall is a Cleveland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Cleveland Magazine and FreshWater Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter at @IlonaWestfall.