Just over an hour east of Music City, Cookeville becomes the latest Tennessee city to start a PFLAG chapter. A small but growing city, PFLAG joins an ever-expanding roster of organizations.

With members from very diverse backgrounds, the fledgling chapter has all the elements of a strong base for development. Gail Stover, the chapter’s Secretary, has many lofty goals for the organization.

“I personally would like Cookeville PFLAG to grow into a thriving hub,” Stover shared. “I would like for it to become a meeting place that reflects every microcosm of the local gay community and a welcoming, accenting place to unite them with straight allies.”

Stover is also quick to recognize the far-reaching potential that a successful chapter can bring to Cookeville. “With a focused LGBT community and their family and friends, we can fully utilize this huge block of voting power to better represent their needs in local and state government.”

Gene Skipworth, one of the chapter’s members at-large, hopes to work with local churches and their leaders to expand acceptance within the community. “When the occasion arises [my goal] is to engage the conservative side, individuals, small church groups or even coffee groups, in a very caring thoughtful posture of conversation,” Skipworth said. It’s worth noting that Cookeville’s chapter already has some church support in the form of a minister sitting on its board.
But those are not Skipworth’s only ideas. He hopes to speak with any individual or group with an open mind in addition to working with organizations outside of PFLAG that may be considered mainstream or straight events to foster dialogue and sense of community.

Shayne Bilbrey, the chapter’s youngest member at-large, brings a youthful spirit that will be necessary to sustain growth. Integral in helping plan UC Pride 2012, Cookeville’s first pride event, Bilbrey is armed with the experience necessary to bring a GLBT organization to Cookeville- including the possibility of community backlash.

“We held [UC Pride 2012] in Dogwood Park, and the weeks before it we had people complaining about it and people planning to protest it,” Bilbrey lamented. “Then comes the day of the event, no protesters. None of them showed up, and we had about a 1,000 people show up for three hours in Dogwood Park.”
But an organization like PFLAG only succeeds through community involvement. Gay or straight, Stover reminds people that supporting and volunteering can be easily done through their Facebook page. Interested parties can also contact PFLAG Cookeville by email or phone. “And if remote joining is not your thing then just make an appearance at one of our monthly meeting. You will be glad you came and so will we.”
You can find PFLAG Cookeville on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PFLAGCookeville.
You can also email pflagcookeville@gmail.com or call (931) 954-2873.
PFLAG Cookeville meets the third Saturday of each month in the Founder's Hall of the United Church of Cookeville located at 502 Gould Drive.

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