Notes from the Field: PFLAG in the Pacific Northwest
by Jean Hodges
I’m back from an incredible weekend in Hamilton, Montana, a town of 5000 residents in the Bitterroot Valley near the Idaho border. I was invited to facilitate a trans-focused panel and show our PFLAG film, “Faces and Facets of Transgender Experience” and also to give a keynote address as part of the Pacific Northwest Regional Conference. Over 125 participants drove many hours or flew from five states to come together for the first time to share insights and learn from one another in a day and a half of workshops and an evening of music by Chris Williamson, nationally known musician.
I looked forward to being in such a beautiful mountain area to see the fall colors since I seem to have missed them in Colorado. The only disappointment of the weekend was to realize as we drove from the Missoula airport and headed south to Hamilton that the heavy smoke from Montana forest fires increasingly obscured the view. By the time we reached the conference venue, smoke filled the air so densely that we couldn’t really walk outside for long. But the people—coming from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and even Alaska—amazing people working on the front lines of social change, provided our reason for being there.
I listened to their stories and realized how “easy” we have it in Boulder, working with the schools and our faith communities. At least we don’t have tea party members dominating the school board and Fundamentalist Mor-mons, the insistent polygamists who pay little or no taxes, home school their kids but show up at school board meetings to say ugly things about how LGBT kids deserve the harassment and bullying! I can’t imagine having to deal with that much vituperation as one brave lesbian did at a recent public school board meeting in Hamilton when she asked that sexual orientation, gender expression and identity be included in their non-discrimination policy.
I watched the local organizers confer about security measures in case any extremists showed up to protest this conference. I remembered that we thought about that occasionally back in l993 when PFLAG Boulder began after Amendment 2. I recall our being careful about who showed up at our meetings.
I told the conference participants that they are on the front lines of social change. In the Pacific Northwest there are new chapters budding, especially in Idaho and Montana. I gave a pep talk to representatives from the six Montana chapters to persuade them to form a state council. They decided unanimously to do so. A group of students from Missoula came to the conference to seek PFLAG support for the advocacy work they plan to do. Another carload of college youth came from Washington State. I told them how much young people are needed in PFLAG since some 63% of PFLAG leaders are 55 years and older! Washington State had a large contingent attending. They were bursting with high energy because they are campaigning hard to defeat the marriage amendment in their state. “Freedom to Marry” is their theme with major organizing to phone bank and doorbell. They have even made some TV ads.
I came away in awe of so much that these PFLAGers of the Pacific Northwest are doing to make a difference. In my speech to “send them home with hope”, I told them true stories about “the power of one” (such as Barb Miller at Boulder’s Manhattan Middle School welcoming 81 students to her Allies group). I told them that they were not alone because they are part of the largest grassroots family and ally voice fighting for LGBT equality. I talked about the courage to hope, even in the face of defeat. I think my words were deeply appreciated. I’m glad I was there.