President Obama has awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation’s second-highest civilian honor, to Jeanne Manford, the schoolteacher who founded PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) in support of her gay son. The Medal recognizes Americans who have “performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens.” Manford passed away exactly a month ago at the age of 92, but was told of the honor before she died.
Manford, a schoolteacher, founded PFLAG in support of her gay son Morty Manford and other families with gay children. In 1972, after New York City police did nothing to prevent Morty from being assaulted during a gay rights march, she wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Post, asserting, “My son is a homosexual, and I love him.” Manford also participated that year in the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade (predecessor to NYC Gay Pride Parade), carrying a sign urging, “Parents of Gays: Unite in Support of our Children.” The next year, at the urging of members of the gay and lesbian community, she founded the organization that would become PFLAG. PFLAG now has more than 350 chapters and over 200,000 members in the United States alone.
In a statement put out by PFLAG, Manford’s daughter Suzanne Manford Swan said, “I was able to share the news of this honor with my mom before she left us and I only wish the President could have seen the amazing smile that spread across her face. My family is deeply touched by this honor and to represent the PFLAG family values of love and acceptance.”
PFLAG National Executive Director Jody M. Huckaby said, “When Jeanne Manford publicly stood up for her gay son in 1972, she had no idea that her actions would spark a movement that would change the lives of so many individuals and families. It started out as a simple act of love, but Jeanne’s legacy lives on, as straight allies continue to stand alongside their LGBT loved ones, united by their collective belief in a better—and more equal—tomorrow. Her voice has been joined by millions of others who have raised their voices and will continue to do so in support of acceptance, fairness, and equality.”
Manford is the second person whom President Obama has honored with the Presidential Citizens Medal for LGBT activism. Lesbian mom Janice Langbehn received the Medal in 2011. In 2007, Langbehn had been denied access to her partner Lisa Pond, who lay dying in the hospital. The couple’s three children were kept from Pond as well. She filed a federal lawsuit and worked to promote her story, which helped motivate President Obama to revise hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples.
Congratulations to Manford’s family. The Medal is a credit to her memory. Even more so, though, are the many families she and PFLAG have helped bring together.