Why Everyone, Including Texas, Needs a Whole Lot More PFLAG

How many of those supporting LGBTQ+ people thought that achieving marriage equality back in 2015 was the end of the struggle for equality? Not Michelangelo Signorile in his wisely skeptical warning It’s Not Over, written in that same year.

He warned us that a resulting “victory blindness” seduces us into thinking that LGBTQ+ people have made it, pulling advocates back from what is merely another step while the enemies of equality were obviously continuing to plan to chip away at rights the way they slowly chipped away at Roe v. Wade.

State by state, local election by local election, a backlash of forces of inequality slowly and with a long-term strategy worked to return the U.S. to a culture that kept them in privileged positions they feared they were losing. While others responded by concentrating on building huge national organizations to rub shoulders with those at the top of the federal government, these radically right-wing forces knew that the real work and funding needs were at grassroots levels that would build local and state bases to eventually challenge any national policy.

They knew that money and energy siphoned from local levels would be wasted unless it returned to those local activists with the support that larger nation-wide organizations could give. The most important battles were local.

And that strategy meant the importance of other local groups to counter their creeping inroads on equality by providing grassroots advocacy, education, and support. It meant everyday people saying that discrimination is wrong and taking that message to their local political leaders as constituents, not outside experts — to local churches, city councils, county legislatures, and state capitals.

A national organization should exist, then, with its primary driving purpose to support these local chapters in their work. What national staff they had were to be there to do that; what national conventions they held were to be focused on what local activists need to take home to do the work in their communities.

The United States’ first, and today the largest, organization that’s been concentrating on that approach since its first meeting of twenty people in a Greenwich Village church in 1973, became what is today known as PFLAG. It now has over 400 local chapters.

But let’s face it. We’re in a media environment where it’s the national spectacles that make the big headlines, local newspapers are diminishing, and much of the news media has fallen for click-bait and a both-sides journalism that seeks to make bigotry sound as if it’s just another option. No matter that the action of change is mostly outside those headlines and media attention because it’s local.

And, if we’re paying attention, we know that the attempts to mainstream anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry, and to justify it in terms of sectarian religious claims, are ramping up again. The fights for diversity, equality, and inclusion are being fought at school board meetings, in library boards, and in local elections.

All this makes it harder to be a local advocate. It requires a special dedication that must come from the heart.

It means that one is having to contradict people they know, meet regularly, and have to interact with right where they live. It involves being there for the individuals of all ages that come to a support group knowing very little more than that they need loving support in the face of what they’re facing in their own homes, schools, work places, religious institutions, and community organizations.

It means wearing multiple hats, fielding questions, representing the cause at every opportunity, recruiting others to participate, and organizing meetings and other events while still taking care of one’s own personal and family obligations. It means attending small meetings, like that original 20 or fewer, where one can wonder how effective they are.

It’s exhausting as well as rewarding. And it’s probably the most important work anyone can do.

It’s those local meetings, presence at local community events, opportunities to represent LGBTQ+ people when needed, individual one-on-one meetings, and mere existence, that make all the difference.

Just having a presence in a community, lets every LGBTQ+ youth and adult know that there is someone to contradict the angry criticisms.

How many times have I met “out” people who referred back to the mere existence of a group that they never actually attended but who give its existence credit for the fact that things got better in their lives?

Author/activist Paul Loeb tells of a friend who in the early 1960s in a pouring rain joined a tiny vigil in front of the White House protesting nuclear testing. A few years later famous baby doctor and progressive activist Benjamin Spock, who influenced thousands, spoke at a much larger march against the Vietnam War, telling the crowd that his inspiration was that small group of women he saw by chance huddled with their kids in the rain. “I thought that if those women were out there, their cause must be really important.”

How many events seemed less rewarding at the time but actually affected the balance of a whole community? When a door that’s been sealed shut for who knows how long is opened, it may swing shut again but it will never close as tightly as it was before.

No one at the time of an event can measure the full effect of local advocacy. No one can know the long-term effects of the education and support that local chapters have provided.

We can know that we are in a process that cannot merely focus on a product or an end point but upon the dynamics of the journey. As the ancient rabbinic saying goes: “If you have a dream that can be fulfilled in one lifetime, it’s too small.”

The day of local activism, the day of the local PFLAG chapter, is far from over. They’re more crucial now than ever no matter how we underestimate how great their impact really is to this world.

The conclusion of famous American historian, Howard Zinn, after his lifetime of research in American history applies to every local PFLAG leader wondering about their work:

No pitifully small picket line, no poorly attended meeting, no tossing out of an idea to an audience or even to an individual should be scorned as insignificant… Those special people who speak out in such a way as to shake up not only the self-assurance of their enemies, but the complacency of their friends, are precious catalysts for change.