Family members, friends and advocates of those identifying as LGBTQ+ soon will have a new local resource to help them and their loved ones.
A few years ago, Janis Guyot learned she was parenting a transgender teen. It was a challenging time for her and her family.
“As a parent, I didn’t really know transgender people,” Guyot said. “I didn’t see this coming and I needed help.”
Guyot (pronounced GEE-oh) turned to PFLAG, a national organization that aims to provide peer support services, education and advocacy for LGBTQ+ individuals and their allies. More than 400 local chapters span the United States.
Referring to the timing as fortuitous, Guyot remembered how she learned back then that Kansas City would soon host the national PFLAG convention. PFLAG had also just named LGBTQ+ activist Brian Bond as its national executive director. Bond, who grew up in rural Missouri, previously served in the Obama administration as primary liaison for the LGBTQ+ community and deputy director for the White House Office of Public Engagement.
Guyot and her husband attended the 2019 PFLAG convention in Kansas City. Guyot absorbed all the helpful information she could from breakout sessions and presentations.
“It was one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended, and it was so helpful,” she said. “I met people who I still connect with through email and Facebook pages. But it gave me at least a start of understanding what my child was going through, what we needed to do as parents. I really am not sure what I would have done without it, and I want to have that as a support for the city (of Lawrence).”
PFLAG’s name has evolved during its nearly 50-year history. It began as POG, or Parents of Gays, in 1973. The organization underwent several name changes, including Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. In 2014, the organization settled on PFLAG.
That designation hasn’t been without controversy. Because bisexual, transgender and queer individuals weren’t directly referenced within the previous acronym, the name has caused challenges, according to PFLAG’s website.
“Some have questioned how strong the commitment to inclusion is if the name doesn’t reflect that commitment,” the website reads. “Others — particularly in our extensive, nationwide chapter network — attempted to address the challenge by developing their own taglines or explanations for what the organization is and who it serves.”
Speaking directly to people in the LGBTQ+ community with links to online resources, the PFLAG website reads, “Regardless of how you identify in terms of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, PFLAG is here to support you and your family in your journey of discovery.”
Guyot said she viewed PFLAG’s advocacy work as immensely supportive, inclusive and helpful for families like hers, especially after a barrage of discriminatory legislation directed toward the LGBTQ+ community in recent years.
“They have tons of webinars you can get on and look at, and then the legislative stuff that they’re working on to try to make it a better world,” Guyot said. “That, to me, is very important.”
Previously, advocates and allies from the Topeka and Lawrence communities combined to form a chapter. But with busy lives, jobs and an hourlong round trip commute between towns, Guyot and fellow residents saw a need for Lawrence to have its own chapter.
When a loved one comes out, it can be a struggle for friends and family members to come to terms with that reality while supporting them at the same time, Guyot said. PFLAG can serve as a place to help start the conversations.
“Sometimes they have family members who are just outright awful about what’s going on in their lives, and they need people who are affirming and loving,” she said. “So PFLAG can provide that and help people.”
The committee launching the Lawrence chapter is made up of Guyot, president; Amy Sanchez, vice president; Amy Lee, secretary; Joan Hoffman, treasurer; Shelby Lynne; and Jocilyn Oyler.
After a year and a half of paperwork and organizational meetings, a new beginning will be celebrated in January with PFLAG Lawrence’s chapter launch.
The agenda consists of a cash bar, meeting, and viewing of the film “Disclosure,” which highlights Hollywood’s depiction of trans lives in the media. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 9, and the program runs from 6 to 8:30 p.m. The event takes place at Studio A in the Lawrence Art’s Center’s 10th and Mass Studios auxiliary space, 1000 Massachusetts St.
Guyot said tentative plans thereafter include monthly meetings from 6 to 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month beginning in February at Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St. Check the Lawrence PFLAG chapter’s webpage for updates and confirmation.
Individual memberships for Lawrence PFLAG cost $30 annually but are not required unless a participant plans to vote during meetings. Guyot said anyone 17 or younger who attends must be accompanied by their parent or guardian.