In April 1972, Jeanne and her husband received word that Morty was in the hospital after being beaten and stomped as he was being led out of a political dinner where he had been handing out flyers.
Jeanne spoke out in support of her son, writing letters identifying herself as the mother of a gay activist. Jeanne stepped into activism herself with a letter to the Editor of the New York Post in April, 1972 in which she wrote:
“I have a homosexual son and I love him.”
What seems so commonplace for us now, and so natural, a mother’s public declaration of love for her child, was, in 1972, a radical act.
Manford gave radio and television interviews in support of her son and in June of that year, marched in what was the precursor to the Pride parade in NYC. With her she carried a homemade sign which read: “Parents of Gays Unite in Support for Our Children”
Jeanne was so overwhelmed with requests to help other families advocate for their gay and lesbian family members, that she co-founded what today is known as PFLAG, a national organization linking families and friends and allies of the LGBTQ community.
From the PFLAG website:
“ By the mid-1990s a PFLAG family was responsible for the Department of Education’s ruling that Title 9 also protected gay and lesbian students from harassment based on sexual orientation.”
“PFLAG put the Religious Right on the defensive, when Pat Robertson threatened to sue any station that carried the Project Open Mind advertisements. The resulting media coverage drew national attention to PFLAG’s message linking hate speech with hate crimes and LGBTQ teen suicide. ”
Jeanne died in January, 2013 at the age of 92.
In February 2013, it was announced that President Barack Obama was to honor Manford posthumously with the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal for her work in co-founding PFLAG and ongoing years of LGBT advocacy. Jeanne was one of 18 Americans selected to received the honor, the second highest civilian award in the US, from over 6,000 nominations.
Of Jeanne, President Obama said:
“This was back in 1972. There was a lot of hate, a lot of vitriol toward gays and lesbians and anyone who supported them. But instead, she wrote to the local newspaper and took to the streets with a simple message: No matter who her son was — no matter who he loved — she loved him, and wouldn’t put up with this kind of nonsense.” He said “that simple act” provided the impetus for a national organization “that has given so much support to parents and families and friends, and helped to change this country.”
A public declaration of love by a mother to her son which started a movement.
Jeanne Manford. Badass mother. Because mothers? We get the job done.
(And if you come after our kids, we will TAKE.YOU.DOWN.)
Read more about Jeanne Manford here.
Happy Women’s History Month!