A mother’s love beats at the heart of the international support organization PFLAG, started in 1972 when Jeanne Manford marched with her son Morty in one of New York City’s earliest Pride parades.
It was unmistakable during the Georgia Straight’s conference call with Colin McKenna—president of the Vancouver chapter of PFLAG (formerly known as Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)—and his mom, Aideen.
“I was smiling, and I couldn’t stop smiling,” Aideen recalled of Colin telling her he was gay. “It all seemed to come over me in a big wave or crush, and I thought, ‘I’ve been hit by a truck, but it’s a truck with a big happy face on the front of it, like an ice-cream truck.’ It was okay.”
But Colin had one more thing to say to his mom, who’s now 76.
“When he told me in late 1999 that he was gay…and in the same breath asked me if I would like to join PFLAG, and when I understood what it was about, I felt that it was something that I needed to do,” Aideen said.
Since 2000, mother and son have volunteered together for the group. “What I wanted to do was to help other families understand that if somebody was L [lesbian], G [gay], B [bisexual], or T [transgender] in their family, that it didn’t have to be the end of the world,” Colin related.
PFLAG meets every third Thursday of the month at Yaletown’s Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre. Its volunteers speak at venues such as workplaces and schools.
“Parents feel terribly isolated when they find out that their child is different from what they thought,” Aideen said. “And they often go into the closet themselves after their own child has come out of the closet.…They do need somebody to talk to, and that’s what we’re there for.”
Colin, 40, a manager at a major insurance company, has seen things change for the better. “There is more acceptance than it used to be,” he said. But there are also new tasks, particularly regarding transgender issues.
“When I joined in 2000, it was hardly a part of the conversation,” Colin said. “It was all moms showing up: ‘My son is gay—what do I do?’ It’s very rare now for us to have that conversation around the table, and it’s more common for us to talk about surgery or, you know, ‘My trans daughter is having trouble at school and the bathroom has become an issue and we don’t know what to do.’ ”
Aideen and PFLAG volunteers Susan Harman and Karin Lind were designated as three of the five grand marshals in last year’s Vancouver Pride parade in recognition of their work for LGBT rights.
Colin, who is an only child, adores his mom: “The reason that I asked her to join PFLAG when I first came out is that I knew that she would be a beacon of hope for other people.”
It’s been a lot of fun for Aideen. “I have a huge crowd of gay friends because of him, so it’s been a huge learning experience over the last 14 years,” she said, laughing. “I’m his biggest fan.”