Raising hope

Hope is defined as “the feeling that something desired is possible." Hope is a very powerful emotion that can help to carry a person through the darkest times of their life. The loss or lack of hope can lead — indeed has led — to very dire consequences for the most vulnerable members of the GLBT community: the gay or transgendered young people struggling for acceptance in a frequently unfriendly world.

Hope is stock in trade for PFLAG, the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. A support community for GLBT people and their family and friends, PFLAG is a national organization with each of its over 350 chapters maintaining a firm local focus and working at the grassroots level in the community. Since the inception of PFLAG in the early 1970s, the overarching goals of the group have been threefold:

To help the family: By helping parents and their gay children through the coming-out process, PFLAG is there to listen, lend support, and assist in communication between parents and their GLBT children.

To shatter stereotypes: Parents often hold negative stereotypes of “those people”, which can lead to great distress when they discover that their child is gay or transgendered. PFLAG offers the opportunity for parents to meet GLBT adults that do not fit any of the negative stereotypes.

To advocate for change: While providing personal support to parents and their children, PFLAG also engages in advocacy to end discrimination and to secure equal civil rights for gays and lesbians.

The group's mission has become ever more critical in the wake of events that have shone a spotlight on the epidemic of bullying and resultant suicides of numerous gay youth. Kathy Halbrooks, president of the Nashville chapter of PFLAG, confirms that they will be working overtime in 2012 to help confront and address the issue of bullying of GLBT youth.

“We would like to have a speaker's bureau," Halbrooks says, "[where we would] have a group of people who are prepared to speak to anyone who would like for us to talk to them.”

This program would be tailored to the specific group requesting the speaker, so parents would have the opportunity to speak with a parent who has a gay child, for example.

More initiatives for 2012 include greater coordination with Gay Straight Alliances throughout state and local high schools as well as further integration with Oasis Center's “Just Us” program. Also, on the PFLAG website, look for a comprehensive list of GLBT friendly counselors and other invaluable resources for parents or children struggling with GLBT issues.

One of the main features of PFLAG as a support community is the monthly meeting held every third Tuesday of the month at Oasis Center. Halbrooks describes the meeting as “a confidential atmosphere free of judgment.

"The chairs are arranged in a circle," she says, "and everyone is given an opportunity to introduce themselves and share anything they wish.” It is not an absolute requirement to speak, however. Additionally, if someone comes to the meeting in crisis, they are able to speak to someone in a private room if they desire.

At times, PFLAG's monthly meeting will feature a guest speaker, such as former Belmont University women's soccer coach Lisa Howe, who lost her job after revealing she was having a child with her partner. Howe spoke about the year that had transpired after her situation became national news. In an eloquent summation she stated, “Being gay doesn't define me, but coming out was a defining moment.”

At the end of Howe's talk, Halbrooks presented her with a small token of PFLAG's appreciation, a gift the organization offers so many in our community, in often less literal ways. The gift was a wall decoration for the nursery of Howe and her partner's 9-month-old daughter. It simply read, HOPE.

For more information on PFLAG, or to get involved, you can go to their website at www.pflagnashville.org. Meetings are every third Tuesday from 7:00pm to 8:30pm at Oasis Center in the Turner Commons room at 1704 Charlotte Ave., Nashville, Tenn.

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