There’s no question that America’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities have achieved significant social and legal gains since the first formal meeting of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays was held in New York more than 35 years ago. All the same, few would argue that significant antagonism toward non-traditional gender roles no longer exists.
Evergreen’s chapter of PFLAG coalesced 15 years ago amid the public uproar surrounding Colorado voters’ 1992 passage of Amendment 2, an act constitutionally prohibiting state, county and municipal laws conferring specific hiring, housing and other protections based on sexual orientation. While both the Colorado and U.S. supreme courts later struck down the amendment, Evergreen/Mountain Area PFLAG has endured, offering help and hope to hundreds of foothills residents struggling to make peace with what often remains an unwelcome revelation.
“It was completely unexpected,” says longtime Evergreen resident Barbara Sternberg, mother of a gay son and a lesbian daughter and a founding member of the local PFLAG organization. “I was not particularly hostile to that lifestyle, and there was never the slightest doubt that we would accept them and their partners; I was just completely unprepared for it. At that time, I didn’t know anyone in the same situation, and there was nobody to talk to about it.”
“When I first learned that my oldest son was gay, I went into the closet,” says chapter president Marva Kerns. “That’s common. It’s just as important for the parents to come out of the closet as it is for the child. I secretly read books from PFLAG, and when I was finally ready to talk about it, my husband wasn’t ready. That’s when I decided it was time for me to go to PFLAG. After my first meeting, my son was so grateful. He said, ‘That’s what we need most — our parents on our side.’ ”
Evergreen/Mountain Area PFLAG launched with about 40 people and, while individual faces have come and gone over the years, has never drifted far from that number. Today, the group’s three dozen members tirelessly pursue the organization’s threefold mission of educating the public about homosexuality and the innumerable practical and social contributions of America’s gays and lesbians; advocating social and legal equality for gays and lesbians; and, first and foremost, offering unqualified support to those with gay or lesbian loved ones.
“Just getting to know all kinds of wonderful, accomplished, ordinary people who have children who are gay made all the difference,” Sternberg says. “One of the huge impacts is the thought that now you’ll never have grandchildren, although that’s changing. It’s helpful to learn how other parents deal with it.”
“You have to learn to talk about these issues, and PFLAG provides a place where people can ask questions and share experiences in complete safety,” Kerns adds. “I get a lot of calls from parents who seem interested in joining the group, and I never hear from them again. We get people who show up for one or two meetings and then stop coming. As a parent, coming out of the closet is different for everyone, and some people have a harder time than others.”
For those who stay, the rewards are many. South Evergreen resident Raeanne Frazer’s journey is an excellent example. Her son, an only child, disclosed his sexual orientation to his parents when he was 13.
“In a way, it wasn’t some sudden revelation,” Frazer says. “We’d suspected something was different, but we’d never confronted him about it. We had kind of joked about it between ourselves, but we’d never in our hearts really believed it.
“We will always love him no matter what, but when he finally told us, and knew it was really real, my first reaction was sick to my stomach. I have a degree in psychology, but it’s different when it’s you. You start asking yourself what you did wrong. I worried that my husband would blame me. Then I started worrying about what would happen to my son. Would he get beat up? Will he get AIDS? The thing was, my son was struggling with it, too, and when you’re faced with a son who’s gay and extremely troubled, the gay part kind of fades away.”
Frazer read everything she could find on the subject of homosexuality. And she put in a call to Evergreen/Mountain Area PFLAG.
“I wanted to talk to a mother — any mother — who had a gay son. It was very scary for me, but thank goodness they were there. It was so wonderful to meet living and breathing people I could touch and talk to who’ve walked this path before. It was like getting insight into my own future.”
That future has been a happy one. An excellent student and gifted athlete, her son found his personal balance and went on to found Conifer High School’s Gay Straight Alliance. He’ll graduate from the University of Colorado this spring. And his mom?
“I’ve been going for nine years,” Frazer says. “I no longer go for the support; I go because it’s my turn to offer support to other mothers. And because, when you go through this process, you become an advocate for all gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Now it’s a lot about education and advocacy.”
If PFLAG has helped a generation of parents make peace with their children’s sexual orientation, it’s also done much to smooth the road for the area’s gays and lesbians. Fifteen years ago, longtime Evergreen resident Doug Cornell was the local PFLAG chapter’s sole gay member.
“At the time I came out, I was also the only person I knew in Evergreen who was gay,” Cornell says. “After Amendment 2, it turned out I knew a lot of people in Evergreen who were gay. It brought a lot of people out of the closet, but it also pushed a lot of people deeper in.
“Evergreen has always been a pretty easy-going town where people like their privacy and don’t care much about your private life, but there’ve always been incidents. I’ve had my share of hate calls, teens taunting me, that kind of thing, but that’s mostly stopped, now. I think people who would otherwise say something have second thoughts because they know that so many people will stand up.”
To celebrate its 15th anniversary and introduce the national Straight for Equality campaign, Evergreen/Mountain Area PFLAG invites the public to attend a community meeting to be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 15, at the United Methodist Church of Evergreen. The event will include guest speaker Dr. Keith Swain, music by Harmonix and refreshments. To learn more, visit www.evergreenpflag.org.