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Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays of Jackson is a nonprofit organization that exists to support the parents and friends of LGBTQ loved ones through the coming-out process. Pictured is Shelli Poe (first row, far right) and a group of participants at the PFLAG holiday party in December 2021. Photo by PFLAG of Jackson

PFLAG Exists To Respect, Value and Affirm Mississippi’s LGBTQ Community

I had just picked up my youngest stepson from middle school, and we were sitting in the car line waiting to retrieve my eldest stepson from high school. After a few minutes, the conversation turned from the typical after-school question “How was your day at school?” to a more profound subject. 

My stepson turned to me in his seat and said: “You know how my friends have been calling me Ray? That’s because I’m trans.”

I glanced at him from the driver’s seat with a knowing look. I had expected this, or something like it, for a couple of years. 

“Oh! Tell me what that means to you,” I said. 

A Transformational Journey

Ray proceeded to explain to me that he feels like he’s a boy, and people have been using the wrong pronouns all his life. As the conversation continued, I was grateful for my background knowledge of the LGBTQ community and activism gained through my graduate and post-graduate studies. 

From that day to now, our family continues on this transformational journey with Ray as we support him in becoming who he truly is.

Not every trans teen has the quantity and quality of support Ray enjoys. Both of his immediate families are not only supportive, but also celebrate who he is and who he is becoming. Many kids, teens and adults do not receive that kind of warm embrace when they “come out,” reveal their true selves, to their families and friends. Many times, the less than full support of their families is not due to malicious intent, but to a lack of awareness, preparation and internal processing relating to the LGBTQ community.

PFLAG parents, like Shelli Poe, focus on supporting their children’s journey by loving them unconditionally, despite who they love or how they choose to express their gender identity. Photo courtesy Shelli Poe

Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays of Jackson is a nonprofit organization that exists to support the parents and friends of LGBTQ loved ones through the coming-out process, and to support LGBTQ individuals as they come out. Having a social circle where one can safely and openly share experiences can make all the difference in the world during such critical times. Mississippi also has two other PFLAG chapters in Gulfport and Tupelo

As a national organization with more than 400 chapters, PFLAG was founded in 1972 and remains the first and largest organization for LGBTQ individuals, families and allies. The mission is “to build on a foundation of loving families united with LGBTQ people and allies who support one another, and to educate ourselves and our communities to speak up as advocates until all hearts and minds respect, value and affirm LGBTQ people.”

When Ray came out to me, I looked for a PFLAG chapter in the Jackson area. Perhaps they could provide some book recommendations and help us become more familiar with the various transitional processes we would have to navigate over the next few years. To my delight, I found that there was an active PFLAG chapter in Jackson from 2013. But because of COVID and other situational factors, the chapter was no longer meeting regularly. I reached out to the former president to see if we might work together to resurrect the chapter, and a few months later, the chapter was back up and running.

PFLAG of Jackson has hosted hybrid meetings (in-person and virtually) for over a year now in the community building at Safe Harbor Family Church in Clinton, Miss. The space is particularly appropriate, since Safe Harbor is a historic LGBTQ community. Twelve LGBTQ individuals founded Safe Harbor in 1995 as a way to love God, neighbor and creation with others in the LGBTQ community—with joy and without fear. PFLAG meets at Safe Harbor every second Thursday of the month from 6:30 to 8 p.m. for a sharing circle.

PFLAG logo of a yellow starburst, with an interconnected heart and triangle overlayed
PFLAG of Jackson has been hosting hybrid meetings during the pandemic at Safe Harbor Family Church in Clinton, Miss. The sharing circles are held every second Thursday from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Photo courtesy PFLAG of Jackson

During a typical sharing circle, participants are asked a series of questions in the round. They may choose to answer or pass if they wish. The first question after basic introductions is typically, “What brought you to this meeting tonight?” I usually share that I have a trans stepson and want to be part of a supportive community. 

A straight woman then says she has been an ally for years and wants to show up for the LGBTQ community. A gay man says PFLAG helped him when he came out to his parents in the ‘80s, and he wants that to exist for young people today. A trans woman says that she is in the early stages of coming out and knows this is a safe space. A bisexual woman says that she is new in town and wants to connect with the LGBTQ community. Another person simply says, “I’m here for me.” 

The group changes from month to month, as we welcome newcomers and build relationships with familiar faces. We respect where each person is on their journey of acceptance, and we offer whatever we can from our own experiences that might buoy someone else up.

If you or someone you know would benefit from a community like PFLAG, please consider participating in a meeting. Details are posted on our website.

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