PFLAG's Family Crisis

By Gidenose, Ted | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), October 28, 1997 | Go to article overview

PFLAG's Family Crisis


Gidenose, Ted, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


Known for helping parents learn to embrace their gay children, the organization is experiencing its own growing pains

Losing the love of one's parents is perhaps the greatest fear faced by someone coming out, and Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays has long represented the quashing of that fear. By providing support and education, PFLAG has helped thousands of families accept the sexual orientation of their gay and lesbian children and has occupied a special place in the pantheon of gay rights organizations. At pride parades, as the PFLAG marchers go by, smiling, wearing T-shirts proclaiming I'M NOT GAY BUT MY CHILDREN ARE, expressing the love so many have yearned for, the response is usually quite loud.

However, the organization that for nearly two decades has prided itself on helping parents accept and love their children seems to be behaving like a dysfunctional family. For the past several months, PFLAG has been mired in infighting. Various members have accused the national leadership of allowing financial mismanagement, ignoring grave personnel problems, and turning its back on the mission of the organization. Tears have been shed, and resignations have been asked for. It's been ugly and occasionally a bit bizarre.

The troubles became public in August, just before a meeting of PFLAG's national board. Former board member Janet Lowenthal tipped off several publications that PFLAG's regional directors council was going to present to the board a lengthy grievance concerning PFLAG's personnel, finances, and business conduct. The grievance was signed by eight of 13 regional directors, whose job it is to oversee the development of local affiliates and act as a liaison between those affiliates and the national office. Along with the grievance were two votes of no confidence: The first, against the board president, Nancy McDonald, was signed by three regional directors. The other, against PFLAG's executive director, Sandra Gillis, was signed by 12. At the same meeting the board discussed an "organizational climate survey" commissioned by the board's management review committee. The survey concluded that PFLAG was troubled by "an abusive environment with disruptive and dysfunctional relationships," among other things.

At the end of the two-day meeting, after much talk of Gillis and the national office's problems, the board voted (18 in favor, one abstention, two absent) to renew Gillis's contract for a year provided she take management and communication classes. At virtually the same moment that the board's positive, seemingly unified statement was issued over E-mail, Sally Morse, a board member and chairwoman of the council, was bitterly complaining to the press about Gillis, McDonald, and the national office.

Soon afterward Morse and several past and present board members--including Bob Bernstein, author of Straight Parents/Gay Children: Keeping Families Together; Carolyn Griffin, coauthor of Beyond Acceptance: Parents of Lesbians and Gays Talk About Their Experiences; and Victor Basile, former executive director of the Human Rights Campaign--sent out packets of information to every chapter president and members of the press. The packets included, among letters and statements, the original council grievance and the management summary of the organizational climate survey, a document that was supposed to have been kept confidential. (In fact, at the meeting in August, board members were asked to sign their copies of the survey and return them; some refused.)

By the time of the national conference in Orlando, Fla., on September 12, the dirty laundry had had a few weeks to air. It still stank. Morse and the other dissident board members were harshly scolded by their peers for sending out the packets and talking to the press. Both Morse and Carolyn Golojuch, president of the Oahu, Hawaii, chapter, were asked to resign. "Throughout this whole weekend I felt like I was in the Mormon Church and was being ostracized because my child was gay," Morse said. …

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