A post office in Jackson Heights, Queens has been named in honor of the couple that founded P-FLAG — Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays.
Jeanne and Jules Manford had a son named Morty who was gay and a member of New York’s Gay Activists Alliance. When Morty protested coverage of the gay community at a dinner attended by reporters and politicians, he was beaten up by Michael J. Maye, the president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association. Maye was acquitted of the assault that occurred as police stood by and watched.
At another protest, Morty was arrested. Police called Jeanne to tell her he was in jail and that he was homosexual.
“Yes, I know,” she said to the officer. “Why are you bothering him?”
After the attack, she wrote a letter to the New York Post (pre-Fox ownership when it was a liberal newspaper). In it she said, “I have a homosexual son and I love him.”
The letter continued, “It might be that these ‘men’ have themselves some deep rooted sexual problems or they would not have become so enraged as to commit violence in beatings.”
The Manfords opened their home to young gays and lesbians who had been rejected by their parents. As they met a few other parents with gay and lesbian children, they began meeting monthly in a church in Greenwich Village. They called their group POG — Parents of Gays.
I met the Manfords at a POG meeting in 1975 that I attended with my boyfriend, Jon, and his parents. Before the meeting, we had lunch in a restaurant in Chinatown. Jon’s mother got a fortune in a fortune cookie that read, “You will meet someone as gay as you are,” that she carried in her wallet the rest of her life. At the meeting, a writer named Charles Silverstein was observing for a book he wrote that came out about a year later. He described our attending the meeting as a family, but we were very disappointed that he had changed our names to “protect” our identity.
I remember meeting both the Manfords and another original POG parent named Sarah Montgomery. Montgomery had a son who committed suicide and left her a note revealing he was gay. Although his death had occurred years earlier, she was still grappling with why he felt he couldn’t tell her. Her message was a warning to parents to love their children unconditionally or they could lose them.
The Manfords were just warm and welcoming. They told us they were sorry Morty couldn’t be there that day, but knew he’d love to meet us. We never did meet, because Jon and I weren’t living in or near New York City at the time.
Although their names aren’t widely known, the Manfords’ contribution to the LGBT community has been recognized. Jeanne served as grand marshal in the New York Pride March in 1991. The block in Flushing, Queens where the Manfords raised Morty has been renamed Jeanne, Jules, Morty Manford PFLAG Way.
President Barack Obama mentioned the Manfords in a speech to the HRC National Dinner and, in 2013, he awarded Jeanne the Presidential Citizens Medal.
This weekend, the Queens post office was renamed in their honor. Morty’s sister was there for the ceremony.
Morty died of AIDS at the age of 41 in 1992. His father had passed away 10 years earlier. Jeanne died in 2013 at age 92.