Philly PFLAG looks to expand support, membership

With the new year now in full swing and a new president at the helm, the Philadelphia chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays is seeking to recommit itself to its mission of providing support to LGBT individuals and their loved ones, education to the public about LGBT issues and advocacy for the entire LGBT and ally communities.

PFLAG Philadelphia will invite the LGBT community and its supporters to a forum on LGBT adoption next week, from 2-5 p.m. Feb. 15, at the Carriage House on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, 3907 Spruce St. During the event, Jared Rolsky, executive director of the Golden Cradle Adoption Services, headquartered in Cherry Hill, N.J., will share his experiences working in the adoption field and discuss the unique obstacles faced by potential LGBT parents.

PFLAG president Myra Taksa, who was elected to the position in October for a two-year term, said the event will serve as an informative crash course in adoption for interested parents and their families.

“From my conversations over the years with a number of LGBT individuals, I know that there have been a lot of questions that have been raised about what the logistics are for adoption, what the prospects are like,” Taksa said. “For LGBT couples and individuals and their parents, friends and other family members, they can come away from this with information that could help if they are seeking to adopt and create their own families.”

Taksa said the adoption forum is one of the organization’s forthcoming efforts to increase its visibility in the local LGBT and ally communities in order to expand its membership base and strengthen its influence and reach.

“Membership is not as high as it had been, and we’re interested in seeing it increase,” Taksa said. “We have a saying that when you no longer need PFLAG, that’s when PFLAG needs you. We need people to give back and help other people in the way they were helped by the organization if they feel that they were.”

Taksa said the group’s current members range from heterosexual parents of LGBT kids to LGBT individuals and ally supporters; she noted that the diversity makes for a welcoming and hospitable environment at all PFLAG events.

“It’s definitely a mixture of people, and we love that. You can get so many different perspectives,” she said. “The people in PFLAG are just amazing. If only one new person were to come to a meeting, we’d happily embrace that person and allow them to feel comfortable.”

Taksa joined the group six years ago after her son, who was 16 at the time, came out to her and her husband. She said the monthly support meetings she and her husband attended proved invaluable to their understanding and support of their son.

“You never know who’s going to walk in the door, and one year it was my husband and I, and we just needed to talk with people who’d gone through what we were experiencing when our son came out. There was no question we adored him beyond expression; we just wanted to be the best parents we could for him, and we didn’t know anything about having a gay child and how to help him.”

Taksa said her involvement with PFLAG Philadelphia allowed her to see the breadth and depth of the LGBT community and to value her son’s role in that population.

“When I went into it, I didn’t have information, and I didn’t have the facts, but I became educated. I saw that I wasn’t alone in having a child who had this characteristic of his, the characteristic being that he’s gay. He’s tall, has dark eyes and he’s gay; that’s just one characteristic.”

Recently, members of PFLAG Philadelphia have taken that educational component to the wider public, participating in the marriage-equality rally staged in the city in November following the Proposition 8 vote in California and continuing the group’s work with the Philadelphia School District to ensure safe environments for all students.

Taksa said the chapter is also examining how they can integrate a national PFLAG safe-schools certification program, Cultivating Respect, at a local level.

The group’s monthly meetings, which usually consist of a speaker or a panel discussion, small-group sessions and occasional advocacy work, are held on the third Sunday of the month, except in June, October and December, from 2-5 p.m. at Penn’s Carriage House.

For more information on PFLAG Philadelphia, visit pflagphila.org, e-mail [email protected] or call (215) 572-1833.

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].