ALEXANDRIA, Va. — PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) opened its bi-annual National Convention on Friday with a keynote address by Dr. Jill Biden, wife of U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, who told the crowd of attendees, “As a teacher and a mom, I know what Jeanne Manford knew — that there is a direct connection between acceptance and positive, healthy outcomes in every important area of life, including education, mental health, and physical health.”
The Vice-President’s wife was referring to PFLAG’s founding “parent” Jeanne Manford, who founded the organization in March of 1973, several months after she had marched with her gay son in New York‘s 1972 Pride Day parade.
“I’ve been a teacher for longer than I care to admit … I’ve taught as a reading specialist in public high schools and I’ve tutored at-risk teens at a psychiatric hospital in Delaware. I believe the greatest accomplishment of any teacher is not instructing students how to read or how to understand biology, but giving them the confidence to do the work,” Dr. Biden said. “Instilling that belief in themselves is the key – not only for learning in the classroom, but for succeeding in life.
“We all know that self-confidence can be a challenge for youth and adolescents — even under the best of circumstances. These are the years when all kids are trying to figure out who they are and who they hope to be. For children who are struggling with understanding their sexual orientation or gender identity, the teen years can be particularly challenging.
“And, of course, kids are not always kind to each other during these times, especially when one of them is different.”
The theme of this year’s PFLAG conference is “Bringing the Message Home: From Our House to the White House,” and is designed to send a message to Washington politicians that PFLAG’s membership is a force to be reckoned with, said Liz Owen, PFLAG’s National Director of Communications, in an interview with LGBTQ Nation.
“Nothing is more powerful than a parent rising to defend their child,” Owen told LGBTQ Nation.
Owen noted that Thursday was devoted to active advocacy by conference attendees, who spent the day on Capitol Hill lobbying members of Congress as well as meeting with congressional aides and staffers.
“It’s hard to say ‘no’ to a parent,” she added wryly.
Dubbed “National Lobby Day” by the organization, it represents the principal focus of PFLAG this year to advance two pending legislative measures, the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the student Non-Discrimination Act. Owen pointed out that PFLAG is very much on the Front Lines of the national anti-bullying effort.
“Our strength is the local chapters and the hard work they put into their schools and their communities to provide a safe place for their kids,” she said.
“We have all heard painful stories of bullying and harassment. And we have read too many accounts of heartbreaking incidents where kids are driven to take their own lives rather than endure the taunting of their peers. No child should be subjected to that. And no parent should suffer that horrific loss,” Dr. Biden said in her address.
“We know the devastating price of the failure to confront a hostile school climate where bullying and harassment can be daily occurrences. Together, we all need to stand up and do our part to keep all of our kids safe, and give them the love, support and acceptance they need to learn and grow and fulfill their dreams,” she added.
“As we enter our 40th year of service to the LGBT community, PFLAG recognizes that its role as the original ally organization is becoming increasingly important to the national discussion around LGBT equality,” PFLAG’s National Executive Director Jody Huckaby said.
This year, PFLAG will will institute a new award named after actress and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres‘ mother Betty.
The Betty DeGeneres Advocate Award’s first recipient, Betty DeGeneres, will accept the award during a special presentation at the PFLAG conference’s formal dinner on Saturday evening. The conference is scheduled to run until Sunday afternoon.