PFLAG founder Jeanne Manford marching in the Christopher Street Liberation Parade with her gay son, Morty, in 1972.

PFLAG, “the nation’s first and largest organization uniting families and allies with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people,” celebrates its 45th Sunday, March 11.

PFLAG was founded in 1973 in New York by Jeanne Manford, elementary-school teacher and mother of renowned gay activist Morty Manford. She had marched by her son’s side in the 1972 Christopher Street Liberation Day March — a precursor to NY Pride — carrying a homemade sign that said: “Parents of Gays: Unite in Support of Our Children.” She was surrounded by people at the end of the march, asking her to speak to their own parents, and the idea for PFLAG was born. Nine months later, with support from her son and husband, Jules, she led the first meeting of PFLAG at the Metropolitan-Duane Methodist Church in Greenwich Village (now the Church of the Village). About 20 people attended.

Formerly an acronym for “Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays,” the organization changed its name to just “PFLAG” to reflect its longtime inclusion of bisexual and transgender people. It was, in fact, one of the first organizations to include bisexual and transgender people and their families.

Over the course of the last 45 years, PFLAG has grown into a national organization with nearly 400 chapters across 49 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and on a U.S. military base in Germany, with hundreds of other family and ally organizations around the globe, all inspired or quietly supported by PFLAG.

“PFLAG has had a revolutionary impact on parenting and family values and practices in the U.S. and around the globe,” says Dr. Jaime M. Grant, new executive director of PFLAG National, the national organization that supports and resources the grassroots PFLAG chapter network.  “Simply put: Family acceptance saves lives.”

According to The Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University, highly rejected LGBT young people were more than eight times as likely to have attempted suicide; nearly six times as likely to report high levels of depression; more than three times as likely to use illegal drugs; and more than three times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and STDs.

But when families are even slightly more accepting of their LGBTQ loved ones, it will significantly reduce harm and risk.

Marsha Aizumi, a longtime PFLAG mom who is now a chapter leader and national boardmember, said “PFLAG is saving lives, including in my own family. My work with PFLAG has allowed me to help my Asian-Pacific Islander LGBTQ community which often suffers in silence and isolation. My own transgender son is now a chapter leader himself! After years of agoraphobia before coming out as trans, seeing my son thriving as a confident leader has brought me so much pride.”

PFLAG National has a variety of signature programs, including include Straight for Equality, which engages and trains allies in a variety of settings; Claim Your Rights, a program created in partnership with GLSEN to help ensure that LGBTQ youth are protected from discrimination, harassment and bullying; and Cultivating Respect, PFLAG’s safe schools program utilized by PFLAG chapters across the country in their own school districts.

For information about PFLAG National, check here.

For information about PFLAG Dallas, check here. PFLAG Dallas meets at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month at Northaven United Methodist Church, 11211 Preston Road. The next meeting is this Thursday, March 8, and this month’s guest speaker is Tori Farmer, executive director of Human Relations—Inclusion and Diversity at KPMG and a PFLAG National board member.

For information on PFLAG Fort Worth, check here. PFLAG Fort Worth meets on the first Thursday of each month at 6:45 p.m. at First Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church, 1959 Sandy Lane.

— Tammye Nash