"What a life gift."
That's PFLAG Charlotte President Karen Graci summing up the first time she attended a support group offered by the nonprofit that supports families, allies and people who are LGBTQ. Karen had worked in the Diversity and Inclusion field for 10 years, and when her daughter came out as transgender she and her husband were "supportive but petrified." Karen says even parents who want to support their loved ones don't know what they don't know in the beginning. "When your child first comes out there are so many emotions. We felt a myriad of conflicting things. We loved our child unconditionally and of course we would support her. At the same time we felt lonely and we wondered how we didn't see the pain she was in for so many years. We didn't know anyone else who was openly transgender, and we didn't think there would be any support locally."
That's where PFLAG Charlotte comes in. For thirty years, the organization has been saving LGBTQ lives, strengthening families, and empowering LGBTQ individuals and allies through support, education, and advocacy. They offer support groups, (currently virtual with both virtual and in-person available when things begin to open up) plus workshops, publications and more.
"We meet individuals and organizations wherever they are," says Karen. "There is no judgment and we walk with them for as long as it takes until they can truly support and affirm their loved one."
Karen and her husband had no idea what to expect at their first PFLAG Charlotte meeting. "What we found was a group of parents sharing their experiences of supporting, loving, and advocating for their LGBTQ loved ones."
PFLAG Charlotte's work matters because when people support and affirm their LGBTQ family members, lives are saved. A 2009 study from San Francisco State University showed that young people who are LGBTQ and who have high levels of family rejection are:
EIGHT TIMES more likely to report having attempted suicide.
Nearly SIX TIMES more likely to report high levels of depression.
More than THREE TIMES more likely to use drugs or have unprotected sex.
Young people in the study who had accepting families reported higher self-esteem, social support, and overall health. And people who are LGBTQ aren't the only ones who benefit from allies in their families. Karen Graci says she wouldn't change a single thing about her journey. "The experience changed me at my very core in all the best ways."
You don't have to be a family member to support people who are LGBTQ. PFLAG Charlotte has all kinds of resources to help all kinds of people become allies. They also consider themselves an ally organization to the entire community, and they are committed to supporting other organizations that help people who are LGBTQ. They offer a fantastic list of local resources at PFLAGCharlotte.org.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Support PFLAG Charlotte's life-saving work by making a donation at PFLAGCharlotte.org. $250 funds several peer support group meetings, $100 pays for 75 PFLAG resource guides, and $50 funds books for their lending library.
You can also support the Charlotte Lesbian and Gay Fund, a collective giving organization through Foundation For The Carolinas that supports many local nonprofits working in the LGBTQ space.
Another powerful way to create change is to invite PFLAG Charlotte to speak in your community. They have presentations and conversations that work for any setting, whether it's talking to a faith group or presenting in a corporate workplace. These sessions provide a safe space for people to hear stories, become familiar with LGBTQ vocabulary, and learn how to support and affirm people who are LGBTQ. You can request a workshop at PFLAGCharlotte.org.
DID YOU KNOW: PFLAG Charlotte is in the running to win $5K this month thanks to the Amy and Brian France Foundation who have partnered with SHARE Charlotte for this year’s Spotlight Series and YOU can help when you VOTE NOW! You can also check out the other organizations eligible to win this month’s prize, here!Grace Kennedy is a Huntersville-based writer specializing in storytelling for nonprofits. Learn more at gracekennedy.net.