Coming out can be a difficult process. Anyone who has had to come out to their loved ones knows there can be sleepless nights agonizing over how people will react, tough decisions about who to come out to first and the overwhelming fear of rejection.

While it is a monumental task for the person coming out, it can also be a trying time for the parents, friends and loved ones who must sort through their feelings and come to terms with the coming out process on an entirely different scale.

Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays, known nationally as PFLAG, has a long standing tradition of being a resource for the friends and family members seeking information about our country’s diverse sexual population.

According to their website, PFLAG promotes the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, their families and friends through: support, to cope with an adverse society; education, to enlighten an ill-informed public; and advocacy, to end discrimination and to secure equal civil rights.
When her son came out over five years ago, Sharon Collins would drive from Franklin, Tenn., into Nashville to attend PFLAG meetings. Collins and her husband found the organization very helpful but over time the late night winter drives became hard. This spurred Collins to begin investigating how to start a chapter closer to home.

“I had been retired and thinking about doing something for people other than myself,” Collins said. “But Williamson County is a pretty conservative, southern suburb … not a progressive area, but the more I thought about it, I thought [Williamson County] really needed a chapter.”

Last year, Collins began working closely with the Nashville chapter and this past month Collins and the Williamson County chapter celebrated their one-year anniversary of hosting PFLAG meetings in downtown Franklin.

But there’s still much work to do. “Children are coming out in middle school and middle school is a difficult time for anyone,” Collins said. “There are about 18,000 children the public schools of Williamson County and if you estimate that five percent of the population is GLBT then that means there are nearly 2,000 children struggling with their sexual identities ... and that means thousands of more parents.”

While Collins recognizes fear can be a driving force in accepting a GLBT family member, Collins hopes that her experience and others like her can help communities overcome the fear. “Not only do we provide a judgment-free space for family and friends to speak but we also have speakers who are members of the GLBT community so that parents can see that it does get better … because it does.”

Collins and the Williamson County chapter meet the second Monday of every month at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in downtown Franklin from 7-8:30 p.m. Collins urges parents, friends and family members who are looking for resources to realize that there is one in their own backyard.

For more information on PFLAG-Franklin contact via email or by phone (615) 591-5324.

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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