By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
In small discussion groups, they hear the stories of other parents who had struggled with the fear and grief of learning that a child was gay--parents like Judith, a single mother who describes herself as a "poster child for P-FLAG."
"I'm an example of how far some of us can come and how quickly," Judith says. Several years ago, her daughter, home from college for the summer, attempted to gradually come out to her mother by lying and saying she was bisexual--thinking it would not be quite as shocking to her.
"I yelled at her and told her if she could choose to be with a man or a woman, why didn't she just choose what was easy--for me, for her, for society," Judith says. "Then she told me she was a lesbian. I kicked her out of the house and told her I didn't want anything more to do with her. That's the way I sent her off to start her senior year in college. We didn't talk for six months."
And for six months, Judith didn't tell a soul. On her commute to and from work, she would roll up her windows and scream at the top of her lungs, in anger and in pain. "Then I found this organization [P-FLAG] and the Cathedral of Hope [a gay and lesbian church in Dallas--the largest gay congregation in the country]. They saved my life and my family. Today I will not set foot someplace where my daughter is not accepted."
Judith pulls out a letter she recently received from her daughter, who lives in San Francisco: "Congratulations on your transition from being my mom to becoming my best friend...I'm proud of the person you've become. You are the mom all my friends wish they had."
Pat Stone first read about P-FLAG, a national federation of support groups first founded in Los Angeles in 1982, in an Ann Landers column shortly after T.J. had left for Virginia. Pat thought she could draw from her own experiences to help other parents of gays and lesbians. Other parents of gay children had the same thought, and somehow several of them found each other. In January 1992, at the first meeting held in the Metropolitan Community Church--later renamed Cathedral of Hope--five parents gathered. About nine months later, Pat would be elected president, a post she has held ever since.
Today the Dallas chapter, with more than 150 members, is one of the strongest in the country. In 1994, P-FLAG caused a bit of a ruckus when Pat and several other members addressed a group of Dallas school district nurses and counselors. Former school board member Dan Peavy, now known for his profane, racist, homophobic taped telephone comments, was one of several trustees who thought, after the fact, that P-FLAG's presentation was inappropriate, that it looked like the district was encouraging homosexuality. Not long after, P-FLAG joined with other gay organizations to push the city council and the school district to add homosexuality to their anti-discrimination policies.
If the greater society doesn't quite know how to take P-FLAG, the group's contributions have not gone unappreciated by the gay community. Each fall when P-FLAG members march in the gay pride parade down Cedar Springs Avenue, the group inevitably gets the most applause, and frequently people along the parade route will run up to the group's members and embrace them. "They tell us we're the parents all gay children deserve," says Pat.
Last fall, the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance voted to give awards to both Pat and Dan Stone for their contributions over the past five years. And this spring, the Cathedral of Hope will honor P-FLAG with one of its Hope awards.
"Pat didn't do it all by herself; there were a lot of people who helped make P-FLAG successful," says Ruth Lax, the chapter's board secretary, whose youngest son is gay. "But she was a wonderful spokesperson. She had a way of making people feel good."
As president, Pat has been the most visible leader of the group, speaking out at City Hall and at anti-violence rallies around the state, like the one in Tyler two years ago, in the wake of the brutal murder of a 23-year-old man who was targeted by his assailants because he was gay.
Several years ago, on Pat's 50th birthday, T.J. celebrated her mother's new-found role as activist with a collage of triangles inscribed with testimonies from her gay friends. "...Mutual acceptance has always been valued in our family, but the passionate activism you now lead is breathtaking," T.J. wrote. "Witnessing the growth in you, in myself, and in our relationship makes me very proud--and hopeful for our future generation."
Dan was not as out-front as his wife, but he was always by her side when she spoke publicly. He led a rap group at P-FLAG's monthly meetings and matched Pat in the depth of his commitment, which he articulated in a Christmas letter he sent out to family and friends in 1994.
"Our goal is help relieve the pain being experienced in many families and to reduce the injustices suffered by too many for such a long, long time. Maybe we can reduce the number of teenage suicides among gay teenagers. They live under such stress that's forced upon them by others who don't care. Our aim is to change things where we can. We have come a long way since T.J. lit the candle.