Monday, January 14th, 2013
Jeanne Manford, whose advocacy for her gay son launched a decades-long crusade for gay rights, died last week at age 92. The organization she founded Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG, is one of the best known and most prominent gay advocacy organization for relatives of gay and lesbian people. More from the obituary published by The Washington Post:
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Mrs. Manford, who died Jan. 8 at her daughter’s home in Daly City, Calif., was widely considered the mother of a movement. Her death, from undisclosed causes, was announced by PFLAG. She was 92.
Mrs. Manford had no background in social activism when she embarked on the mission on behalf of her son. She was born Jean Sobelson on Dec. 4, 1920, in Queens. (She later changed her first name to Jeanne.) She graduated from Queens College in 1964 and spent her career as a schoolteacher in New York City public schools.
She compensated for her lack of organizing experience with her love for her son. In interviews with national media, and in countless conversations with parents, she recalled the moment when she learned that her son was gay.
“I love you the same,” she recalled telling him. “This doesn’t make any difference.” Morty was so taken aback, she once told CNN, that it took him “a while” to accept her acceptance.
Morty Manford witnessed the 1969 riots after a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village neighborhood, an event that became a catalyst for the gay rights movement. He became a prominent organizer in his own right and was noted for his role in the events at the Hilton. His alleged attacker was later acquitted because of what the judge described as “incongruities” in testimony.
After the attack on her son, the New York Post published a letter to the editor from Mrs. Manford. “I have a homosexual son and I love him,” she was reported to have written.
Morty invited his mother to march alongside him in the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade, which is described as a predecessor to the New York City Gay Pride Parade. She did, carrying a sign that read: “Parents of Gays: Unite in Support for Our Children.”
The response, she later recalled, was overwhelming. She was said to have thought that the profuse cheering was for the man marching behind her — child-care guru Benjamin Spock. In fact, it was for her.