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She was my mother
January 8, 2013 2:16 PM   Subscribe

Jeanne Manford, the former schoolteacher and founder of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays , has died at 92 years old.

Born Jeanne Sobelson on Dec. 4, 1920 in Queens, N.Y., Manford became active on behalf of LGBT rights in 1972 after her son Morty was beaten during a Gay Activists Alliance demonstration. After Morty's attack, Manford penned a letter to the editor of The New York Post, declaring "I have a homosexual son and I love him."
posted by roomthreeseventeen (73 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
from the Advocate:

In addition to her daughter Suzanne Swan, Manford is survived by her son-in-law Richard Swan, her granddaughter, Avril Swan and her husband Stuart Streepy, and her great-granddaughters, Clara, Grace and Jules. Manford and her late husband Jules also had a son Charles, who died in 1966, as well as Morty, who died in 1992.

"She is known to thousands of people as the mother of the straight ally movement," Swan said, "but to me, she was my mother."
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:18 PM on January 8, 2013


Aww. She had a good run, and she really made a difference.

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posted by Floydd at 2:27 PM on January 8, 2013


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posted by sonascope at 2:28 PM on January 8, 2013


It makes it slightly easier to accept we've lost such a great person if I tell myself she left the world with at least two more like her.

slightly

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posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 2:33 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by kmz at 2:34 PM on January 8, 2013


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posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:34 PM on January 8, 2013


People like her make the arc of history worth watching.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 2:37 PM on January 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


Thank you, Ms. Manford. You touched so many lives.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:37 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think there are legions of allies in no small part because of her. I know that I owe her a debt of gratitude.

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posted by Anitanola at 2:37 PM on January 8, 2013


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posted by dismas at 2:39 PM on January 8, 2013


She was a mother to us all, whether she knew it or not. Even today, at Pride in San Francisco, the PFLAG contingent gets roars of approval and not a few tears from those who had parents like her, or wished we had.

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posted by rtha at 2:41 PM on January 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


I think we all owe her a debt of gratitude for her work in making the world a more tolerant and loving place.

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posted by arcticseal at 2:44 PM on January 8, 2013


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posted by Kpele at 2:46 PM on January 8, 2013


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posted by Blue Jello Elf at 2:54 PM on January 8, 2013


PFLAG was important in two ways. The first, and most obvious, was that it gave gays and lesbians a support network outside of the gay community, and helped create an American in which LGBT people weren't necessarily a beleaguered minority with nobody outside their community advocating for them. I don't believe any of the changes in society that have normalized the gay experience would have been possible without this.

But, secondly, it also helped undo one of the major strengths of homophobia. When I was in college in the 80s, and started figuring out that I thought homophobia was an awful thing, and had friends who were gay and wanted to support them, it was almost impossible to do so without being thought of as gay too. And since back then being gay was still very frequently met with violence, it helped make supporting gay people a frightening experience -- and if it was this way in the 80s, imagine how it was in previous decades, when rumors of gayness could get somebody fired or ostracized with just a phone call. Homophobia was really potent, because publicly rejecting it made straight people run the risk of being a victim of homophobia.

Jeanne Manford and PFLAG created a new category: straight people who supported gay people. And, because of the visibility of the organization, helped make this category something that was broadly understood. She helped the world realize that you didn't have to be gay to support gay people, and, in doing so, she stole some of the power of homophobia away from it. Suddenly you could be a politician and support gay rights without people assuming you were gay (in fact, the opposite seems to be the case now: if you are publicly anti-gay enough, people assume you must be deeply closeted.) I guess ideally people would support gays or lesbians in spite of homophobia, rather than because they no longer need fear that they may be made a victim of it. But this is not an ideal world, and PFLAG made it possible for people to locate a category of support that was neither homophobe not gay person. And this is really important, because I sometimes think the world is changed most by changing what sort of self-definition is possible, what sort of categories of possibility exist, and she helped made possible the category of "straight person who supports gay people."

When I was in college I would never have believed that just 25 years later, the world would have changed so much, and the idea of being a parent or friend of a gay or lesbian would move to a place where it is sort of unremarkable -- that a majority of Americans just generally support gay rights. The world has lost an essential agent of change in her, but we are better for having had her here.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:59 PM on January 8, 2013 [50 favorites]


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posted by gusandrews at 2:59 PM on January 8, 2013


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posted by NedKoppel at 3:00 PM on January 8, 2013


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posted by dlugoczaj at 3:01 PM on January 8, 2013


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posted by Amplify at 3:03 PM on January 8, 2013


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It's not really a question of if she's in the 'handful of most important gay rights advocates in the US' but where on the list you'd put her. I remember her on Geraldo, of all things, in an episode about same sex prom dates at around the same age I was going to the prom. And I can't even put myself in the mindset of that kid except to remember how nice it was to have somebody's mom be supportive. We live in imperfect but better times because of her.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:06 PM on January 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


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Thanks, Jeanne, for founding a great organization. Too bad it's the kind of organization neither of my parents would ever join.
posted by heurtebise at 3:07 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by glhaynes at 3:11 PM on January 8, 2013


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posted by tuesdayschild at 3:17 PM on January 8, 2013


I have a PFLAG sticker on my fridge. Every pride parade I go to I look for the people handing out "PFLAG loves me" stickers, because they're awesome and like a hug you can wear around.

Thanks you for leaving the world a better place than you found it, Jeanne.
posted by loquacious at 3:22 PM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


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posted by Tesseractive at 3:27 PM on January 8, 2013


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posted by brujita at 3:29 PM on January 8, 2013


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posted by MrBadExample at 3:30 PM on January 8, 2013


A wonderful mother and a heroic human being.

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posted by scody at 3:31 PM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


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posted by davejay at 5:09 PM on January 8, 2013


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posted by Brody's chum at 5:17 PM on January 8, 2013


The article says she'd "been in declining health for some time". That could mean a lot of things, and I don't want to intrude upon her privacy or that of her family....but I sure hope she was able to see the great strides this country has made in the past few years. I'm not naturally optimistic, but it really feels like the tide is turning in a big way, and growing steadily. Anyone who was one of the first waves to turn that tide around deserves a life-size bronze statue in front of city hall.
posted by uosuaq at 5:38 PM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by Deoridhe at 5:53 PM on January 8, 2013


I would love to read the whole letter to the editor cited above.
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posted by aerotive at 6:25 PM on January 8, 2013


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posted by blurker at 6:27 PM on January 8, 2013


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posted by leslies at 7:08 PM on January 8, 2013


I was a teenage lesbian. She would come and speak at our Gay and Lesbian Youth of New York meetings (now BiGLYTNY.) It was such a warm, wonderful feeling to see and hear a parent who believed we were important and special, because a lot of us sure didn't get that at home.

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posted by ltracey at 7:13 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:36 PM on January 8, 2013


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posted by Nimmie Amee at 7:57 PM on January 8, 2013


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posted by cadge at 7:58 PM on January 8, 2013


She was the change she wanted to see in the world.

Bravo.
posted by shoesietart at 8:03 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thank you Jeanne.

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posted by silverstatue at 8:26 PM on January 8, 2013


I've wished for decades now that my parents were the PFLAG types. They aren't. Ah well.

For all those Manford helped along their path, and for all those who wish she had helped someone along their path....

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posted by hippybear at 8:26 PM on January 8, 2013


Like the tribute page on the PFLAG site says, it is all the more amazing that she was able to pull together such a big, strong, well-organized grassroots movement at a time when the internet, social media, cell phones--none of these things existed. I am glad she lived long enough to see some of the remarkable change her actions helped bring about.

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posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:36 PM on January 8, 2013


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PFLAG showed a lot of freaked-out parents and family members that gayness was more ordinary than they thought, not just some sort of nefarious "big city" vice.
posted by desuetude at 10:25 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by JimmyJames at 12:21 AM on January 9, 2013


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posted by marginaliana at 6:33 AM on January 9, 2013


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posted by antiquated at 7:31 AM on January 9, 2013


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posted by jokeefe at 9:34 AM on January 9, 2013


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posted by toadflax at 9:45 AM on January 9, 2013


I just have to say: PFLAG is probably the only active LGBT support group in my area, and my dealings with the local branch here have been nothing less than wonderful. They're good people and a very necessary organization.

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posted by byanyothername at 10:58 AM on January 9, 2013


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posted by Kimberly at 11:47 AM on January 9, 2013


You know something that I've just realized, which was probably super obvious to others already, but: the advancement of LGBT rights in this country has been just as amazing if not more so than say, the progression from the Wright Flyer to Apollo 11. There's obviously still so so so so so far to go (just as with all social justice issues, and to vastly differing degrees depending on region) but in less than 50 years we've gone from the Stonewall Uprising to well... this. It's been a long hard uphill battle, and there's still miles to go, but goddamnit there's been a lot of good progress and amazing heroes like Jeanne Manford are a huge part of the reason why.
posted by kmz at 12:28 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by Feisty at 11:14 PM on January 9, 2013


Thank you, Jeanne, for providing me with an extra family when I needed one.


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posted by _paegan_ at 10:14 AM on January 10, 2013


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posted by brainwane at 10:01 PM on January 10, 2013


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