Last night I attended the inaugural meeting of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians And Gays), a new group in Port Elizabeth. It's an initiative of one group I'm involved with, called ECGLA (Eastern Cape Gay & Lesbian Association) and the PE branch of Lifeline. This initiative is the culmination of the past year's co-operation between Lifeline PE and ECGLA on developing a community-focused counseling service for the Pink Community in Port Elizabeth - and I have to admit, it's a heart-warming experience when you start to see and feel the fruit of your labors!
Based on the American concept, PFLAG is a support group for the straight parents and friends (and colleagues) of the Pink Community, intended to provide information, counselling and education on the issues surrounding the pink people in their lives, and to break down the social stigma faced by pink folks and their relatives and friends. It's also heart-warming when people who are, for all intents and purposes, outside our community, reach out a welcoming hand and work to make things better.
So many gay, trans and intersex people face social prejudice and persecution in the open world - but when they face rejection or prejudice from their friends or family often out of concerned ignorance or misplaced fears, it hurts them even more so. Most of the time, parents and close associates of our community are distraught and shocked and are ill-equipped to deal with the news of someone close to them coming out - and especially in close-knit and conservative communities where sometimes sexuality or gender are scarcely talked about. Most of this group's focus will be aimed at supporting people in the middle of dealing with these issues.
Last night's meeting was more of an introduction and initial planning session. Riana Nel, who is a parent of a gay son, introduced herself as the leading figure of this new group. This dynamic and genuine lady is well-equipped and eager to help other parents come to terms with their children's sexual orientation or gender identity as it is a complex, difficult and deeply personal path well-known to her.
Last night the group also addressed the still noticeable cultural divide in our community, as some of the black folks present from one of ECGLA's local ethnic partner groups, Masipume, mentioned that some parents didn't want to come as they don't speak English or Afrikaans well, and felt out of place discussing what is still very much a taboo in their culture. Susan, the Director of Lifeline PE, an active partner in this new group, pointed out that counseling is currently available in multiple languages, including Xhosa, and that an effort would be made in future to provide presentations and information in local languages as well.
PFLAG is about love and family, and standing by the people you love. It's about more than just being tolerant and accepting. It's about being welcoming and showing the people you love that you support them, that even if you don't quite understand them or what makes them who they are, that you are making the effort to - that you care about what happens to them, and that you feel for them. It's about sticking to your child, standing by your parent, your brother, your sister, your friend, your colleague. It's about making the world a safer, warmer, brighter place for us all.
Future meetings of the support group will take place every 2nd and 4th Tuesday evening from 6 - 7pm. Considering the hard work and effort that has been put in, this was a very, very rewarding meeting indeed. I look forward to the next one!