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How a mother's love, anger and dedication to her gay son became a political force in the early 1970s

Jeanne Manford, holding the sign “Parents of Gays: Unite in Support for Our Children,” alongside her son, Morty Manford, at the third annual Christopher Street Liberation Day March in New York City, June 25, 1972. (Courtesy of Les Carr/PFLAG National)
Jeanne Manford, holding the sign “Parents of Gays: Unite in Support for Our Children,” alongside her son, Morty Manford, at the third annual Christopher Street Liberation Day March in New York City, June 25, 1972. (Courtesy of Les Carr/PFLAG National)

Editor’s note: This piece contains homophobic language and a discussion of suicide. If you or someone you know may be considering suicide or is in crisis, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

When children came out as gay to their parents in the 1970s, their families often wrote them off as dead. Even if parents continued to support their LGBTQ kids, there was no external support for creating a safe, loving environment for them.

But love, even in the face of societal adversity, is a powerful tool. And one mother’s love for her gay son set a domino effect in motion that continues to this day. Morty Manford was an early member of the Gay Activists Alliance, and his mother, Jeanne Manford, is credited as one of the founding members of PFLAG, which originally stood for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. 

One night in April 1972, New York City’s Inner Circle dinner was in full swing. Morty Manford was in attendance with other gay activists handing out leaflets in protest of the New York media’s bias against gay people. The group took specific issue with an editorial that ran in the New York Daily News about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to hear an employment discrimination case about two men who applied for and were denied a marriage license in Minnesota.

While they handed out leaflets, a group of attendees physically assaulted the activists. The attack left a number of them, including Morty Manford, hospitalized.

In response to the brutal attack on her son, Jeanne Manford penned a letter to the New York Post. 

“I said, ‘My son was gay and that the police stood by and watched these young gays being beaten up and did nothing,’” Jeanne Manford said. “And it was printed.”

During the summer of 1972, Jeanne Manford attended her first march for gay liberation. She ended up speaking to parents of other young gay people, which led to the start of an official organization, first called Parents of Gays and now called PFLAG.

“In historical perspective, the parents’ organization began at a time when police were still raiding bars where gays were; gays had no job protection in any city in this country whatsoever; where there was still the stigma of being gay,” Morty Manford said. “That’s why the parents’ organization was so important. It was one of the first voices.” 

Find a full transcript from author Eric Marcus’ podcast “Making Gay Historyhere.


Eric Marcus produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Eileen BolinskyGrace Griffin adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.