Our PFLAG Columbia/Howard County chapter began in January 1995. In response to interest expressed by the Unitarian Congregation to form a welcoming committee, a few of us decided it would be appropriate to form a separate organization which would encompass the greater community. We placed a small advertisement in a local newspaper announcing the formation of a support group for parents of gay and lesbian children, along with an open invitation to the gay and lesbian community. Over 30 people attended that first meeting, and we then invited the PFLAG regional director to help us organize into a formal chapter. Attendance at our meetings now averages 50 people or more, including parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, and a large contingent from the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community in Howard County and well beyond. We stress safety and confidentiality at each meeting. We are a volunteer chapter, and rely totally on membership dues and donations from monthly meeting attendees. Our meetings cover a wide range of events- from panel discussions, films, guest speakers, all and any issues that are important and relevant to our members and guests. After the main topic, the Rainbow Youth Alliance meets in a separate room, new parents are given the option of meeting with other new parents, and the rest of the group engages in a time of support in which we either share our personal stories of our journey towards understanding GLBT issues or continue a discussion of the meeting topic.
When large numbers of GLBT teens and young people began attending the meetings, and we decided to form a separate group for them: the Rainbow Youth Alliance. Our chapter was the first in the county to sponsor a “gay prom”. It was hugely successful and included press coverage statewide. We often advertise our chapter in the High School newspapers in Howard County. With our support, there are currently six gay-straight alliances in our high schools, and our goal is to have one in every school. The group discusses coming out issues, school situations and general teen concerns. They occasionally have guest speakers, ranging from Health Department personnel to authors. Field trips are taken to both Baltimore and Washington DC to visit places of interest. The RYA group meets every second and fourth Tuesday of the month with well-screened talented and dedicated adult facilitators. For the first time our chapter will be awarding a scholarship to a deserving RYA student, and hope to continue this as a yearly event.
In addition to our general monthly meetings, new parents with a child or family member recently out are invited to meet separately with a parent facilitator every third Monday of the month to help them feel comfortable discussing their concerns. Our hotline receives many requests for information from parents, students, and spouses. We send out many brochures and pamphlets, and direct callers to the right resource/support group as needed. When a few people expressed interest in being more politically active, we formed an Advocacy committee which now has ten members representing various political districts. We join with Equality Maryland and our larger membership each year to lobby our delegates. The advocacy committee meets every fourth Monday of the month.
To encourage camaraderie, we hold an annual family picnic. It is often the highlight at the end of the summer, with our families, gay and straight and transgender, enjoying a relaxing and fun filled afternoon. Many local politicians and school board members attend and get to know us personally in this relaxed atmosphere.
Our mission includes outreach for education and advocacy, and this aspect of our
organization is continually growing. We staff tables at numerous community events from the Arts Festival to the local Government Diversity day. We continue to work closely with local and state politicians to achieve equal civil rights for our GLBT family members and friends.
We worked with the County Executive to obtain domestic partner benefits (dpb) for county employees, and also achieved our goal of dpb for the county school employees, and the community college employees. We have given the principals and guidance counselors in all high schools in Howard County packets of information on how to work with GLBT students and faculty, as well as with students who have GLBT parents. We have spoken to pupil personnel workers and led workshops for the school system on how to have safe schools. Our steering committee members attend student services meetings sanctioned by the Board of Education and are participants on the Equity Council (advisors to the school superintendent). PFLAG Columbia/Howard County also has a representative on the county Hate-Bias Impact panel.
We as a chapter work hard at dispelling negative myths and communicating the truth about our friends and loved ones, and will continue to serve until the GLBT community is totally equal and accepted in this society. Please see our website www.pflagmd.org and learn what educational, advocacy, support and fun events we are engaged in!