Hundreds of people gathered at the Mayflower Hotel on Wednesday May 9 to celebrate the 45th anniversary of PFLAG – the nation’s first and largest organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people, their families, and allies.
The organization celebrated 45 years of working to support and educate families and activate allies, and honored civil rights legend Congressman John Lewis (GA-5), LGBT Equality Caucus founding Co-Chairs Congressman Barney Frank (MA-4, Retired) and Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and LGBT Equality Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Jared Polis (CO-2) with its inaugural Champion of Justice award. The evening was hosted by PFLAG Board member Catherine Hyde, who had a personal connection with the LGBT Caucus, having testified at the Congressional Forum on Trans Violence at the launch of the Congressional Transgender Equality Task Force. Dow Chemical Company received Straight for Equality in the Workplace honors.
PFLAG was founded by Queens, NY schoolteacher Jeanne Manford. After her gay son, activist Morty Manford, was harassed and beaten in 1972, she marched by his side in an early precursor to NY Pride, and found herself surrounded by young LGBTQ people asking her to reach out to their parents. Within weeks, the phone in her home was ringing off the hook with requests from these young people and their families, and nine months later, in March 1973, PFLAG was born.
The evening included opening and closing performances from The Seasons of Love Ensemble of The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC, as well as welcoming words from Kori Johnson, a strong ally to the LGBTQ community and the first African-American woman in over 80 years to serve as general manager of DC’s most iconic property, the Mayflower. Jessica Halem, the inaugural LGBT Program Director for Harvard Medical School, helped raise money auctioning off packages from Marriott, American Airlines, and R Family Vacations. Two lucky attendees went home with $2,500 shopping sprees courtesy of Whirlpool.
All of the evening’s honorees spoke from the heart, including Larry Ryan, president, Growth Platforms & Technologies, Dow, and a member of the PFLAG Board of Directors.
“As the parent of a gay man, I’m proud to be an active member of PFLAG,” said Ryan. “I’m proud to work for Dow, a company which was among the first to offer domestic partner benefits…this award is personal not just for me, but for the thousands of Dow employees who live the mission of this important organization and support its scholarship program.”
Rep. Jared Polis spoke emotionally about his colleagues. “Some of my heroes are being honored tonight, John Lewis and Barney Frank, and I can’t believe that my name would ever appear this close to theirs, so I’m pinching myself a little bit!”
Rep. Barney Frank (ret.) spoke of his history working with PFLAG. “PFLAG’s work is so important. At a time when we were fighting for equality on every front, PFLAG played a major role. Some of our bitter opponents tried to claim the banner of family for themselves, so it became very hard to do that, then, when a mother said to them, ‘I have as much right to love my child as you do.’”
Rep. John Lewis brought the room to its feet saying, “During the early days of the early civil rights movement I saw people being discriminated against because they were gay. It was not right, it was not fair, and it was not just. And some of us tried to say something and do something about it, because when you see something is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to stand up and say something and find a way to get in the way, and get into what I call good trouble.” Lewis continued, “There are forces in America today who want to take us back, but we’ve come too far, we’ve made too much progress, and we’re not going back, we’re going forward…Never give up, never give in, never lose faith. Be hopeful, be optimistic, and get in there and get in good trouble, necessary trouble, to redeem the soul of America!”