2015 PFLAG National Convention — Report by Jean Hodges, PFLAG National President

October 16-18, 2015, was the time when some nearly 400 persons from 37 states and 4 foreign countries convened in Nashville to be the Gathered PFLAG Family.

What was our purpose in being together? To be inspired by outstanding speakers, to renew old friendships and network with new friends, to challenge ourselves to maintain relevance for an unknown future; and to gain skills and increase understandings to take back home to strengthen our home chapters.

As National President, my work began on Thursday with a full-day meeting with the Regional Directors Council to hear about challenges and accomplishments happening across the country in our 400 chapters. Thirty-some new chapters formed this year in spite of our national Marriage Equality victory in June. They are emerging in conservative, often rural towns where it once felt too dangerous to be PFLAG. I find that exciting and encouraging to know that PFLAG’s work is far from over.

On Friday after immersion in a packed agenda of National Board business in the morning, over 200 of us, including board members plus early convention arrivals and local PFLAGers, spent the afternoon doing community service for several non-profits—an animal shelter, a high-risk youth center and a huge food warehouse distributing food to the needy in and around Nashville. I helped to sort and load frozen meat in a huge cooler until my fingers were numb. I rewarded myself taking Friday night off to enjoy the Grand Ol’ Oprey with Colorado and New Mexico PFLAG friends.

The Convention itself opened on Saturday morning with the annual General Membership meeting where reports to the membership from the National Board and Staff. The Rebranding initiative did not provide the new tagline we all hoped for since we no longer can just say what PFLAG stands for as our descriptor of what PFLAG is. How can we talk about how inclusive we are in just a few words? What we were asked to practice to start a conversation about PFLAG is this “elevator speech”. Try it!

“PFLAG is the extended family of the LGBTQ community. We’re made up of LGBTQ individuals, family members, friends and allies. Because together, we’re stronger.”

Major convention offerings were two plenaries, 46 workshops which culminated in an Award Luncheon where there were chapters awards, the Starr Award for outstanding and enduring service, and the Betty DeGeneris Advocate Award which went to Caitlin Jenner’s mother, Esther, who at 89 was unable to attend. Her daughter Pam Mettler accepted the award and shared with us that she kept her brother Bruce’s secret for 30 years.

Workshops were organized in topical streams: racism, diversity and inclusion; safe schools and youth safety; skill building for chapter leaders including tools and tips in fundraising, sharing your story; faith community outreach and religious liberty issues; transgender basics and outreach to families with gender expansive children; and one special general presentation by four us representing different stages of PFLAG leadership from local to national. We each shared our own stories of our personal journeys into various levels of leadership and the benefits we have experienced.

Overall, it was a packed agenda in a venue that allowed for us to interact informally and also in workshop discussions. We all left on a high note, accepting the challenge “to be the change we want to see”, having achieved our goals of learning, networking and renewed passion to continue the work of PFLAG locally.

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