by Rebecca Potts
In June of 1969, police invaded the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in New York City. During that era, gay bars were a place of refuge in an unaccepting world. The raid infuriated the community and led to six days of riots, which were responsible for sparking the Gay Rights Movement across the globe. The Stonewall Riots are also the reason that June has been named Pride Month. Here in Fresno, we have several organizations that are committed to supporting the LGBTQ+ community, and changing the public perception of what it means to be LGBTQ+. I sat down with the Secretary/Treasurer of PFLAG Fresno, Terry Stasio, Jr., to talk about the role they have played in improving the lives of Fresno’s LGBTQ+ community.
KRL: How did PFLAG Fresno begin?
Terry: PFLAG is a national organization started by Jeanne Manford in 1973. Our chapter in Fresno started in the early ’90s, when Jerry and Kathy Ward realized there was no local support for them and their son, who had just come out as gay. Jerry and Kathy brought other parents, family members, and friends to a group that could speak openly about the struggles they faced with other family members, their neighbors, schools, doctors, and their community. The group was not limited to just the family members and friends. Many LGBTQ+ people who couldn’t find support for themselves also came here and have always been welcomed with open arms.
KRL: What is PFLAG’s mission?
Terry: PFLAG’s 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.”
KRL: What kind of services do you offer to the LGBTQ+ community?
Terry: We host a monthly two-hour meeting where we have an hour-long group discussion. We start by going around the room with brief introductions and then continue with group support or go into discussion of issues that affect our community, whether local or world-wide. We avoid political discussion, unless it’s an issue that directly affects our community or our members. We normally have a guest speaker from the community during the first or second half of the meeting. We try to schedule leaders of other groups or community resource organizations that are a benefit to our meeting attendees.
We also attend community events and resource fairs where we can have a table with information and books that we provide free to the community. Some of these events have been Pride Festivals, college campus Pride events, Transgender Day of Remembrance, September Spectacular Resource Fair, and Expression Not Suppression.
KRL: How do you combat the stereotype that a church environment may not be LGBTQ+-friendly?
Terry: Every church is different. While there are some that would rather not have LGBTQ+ members, and some that preach “love the sinner, hate the sin,” there are others that strive to include and even celebrate LGBTQ+ members. For the record, PFLAG is not affiliated with any religious group or denomination, but if meeting attendees are looking for open and affirming churches, we will help them as best we can. Our monthly meetings are in a rented room at Wesley United Methodist Church, which is an arrangement made long ago when the chapter’s founders became members there, and several others in the congregation wanted to attend the PFLAG meetings. Our meetings are still there because many of our meeting attendees find it convenient that we meet a couple hours after the regular Sunday services.
KRL: Do you have any events coming up?
Terry: Our meetings are the second Sunday every month at 2 p.m. Besides our regular meetings, we are in the process of organizing a fundraiser that will, hopefully, come together soon. In September, some of our members will be volunteering at Fresno’s Reel Pride LGBTQ+ film festival, and we will have a table at this year’s September Spectacular Resource Fair at Cary Park (behind Fashion Fair). We will also have a presence at the Transgender Day of Remembrance in November, and we will host a holiday potluck in December in place of our regular meeting.
KRL: What would you say to someone who is not accepting of the LGBTQ+ lifestyle?
Terry: It’s very hard to change someone’s mind when they’ve been programmed by society or old-fashioned ideals. People used to believe that being LGBTQ+ was a matter of choice, but it is generally recognized now as something as inherent as being left-handed or having blue eyes. We are what we are and it’s not something that can be changed with therapy or medicine. Generally, the people that come to our meetings do so because of a family member who has recently come out and they are searching for understanding. Most people find it easier to accept their LGBTQ+ family members as they learn more about it, and realize it’s not just a few people on the other side of town. Coming to our meetings where everyone is supportive and compassionate goes a long way to helping them on their journey. People reach different levels of acceptance and for some it takes longer than others. We always encourage our meeting guests to keep coming, keep learning, and hopefully someday they’ll be the ones offering support to others.
KRL: What are some ways that you’d like to grow your organization?
Terry: Word of mouth and talking about our experiences helps get the word around. Many people in today’s age are completely accepting of their LGBTQ+ family members, and that’s great, but it means they probably won’t come to a meeting because they think they don’t need it. We hope to also find these people and encourage them to come, because they can help others. Most other plans to grow our organization cost money, like advertising, and printing flyers and business cards. We are always trying to stretch the budget to improve our outreach materials, attend local events where we might attract others, and are always on the lookout for fresh ideas.
KRL: How can the community support you?
Terry: Come to a meeting, see what we’re about, help someone else in need of support, and/or join our annual membership ($30) to help us keep going. Donations are always welcome. Word of mouth is powerful as well.
You can find out more information about PFLAG Fresno at these websites:
History of PFLAG: pflag.org/our-story
KRL: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Terry: If you have LGBTQ+ family members, please let them know you love and accept them.