PFLAG Cornelius/Lake Norman, an acronym for Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays, offers a safe place for friends and relatives of gay and lesbian individuals to come for support.
The group serves anyone who is close to someone who identifies as LGBTQ, meaning lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or questioning/queer.
“We feel like there are people who would like to join us but don’t know that PFLAG is there,” said president of PFLAG Cornelius/Lake Norman, Pat Baker. Generally about 10 to 12 people attend meetings. Sometimes, LGBTQ individuals themselves come, seeking support after receiving negative reactions to coming out.
A banner reading, “You have a home at PFLAG” hangs at meetings.
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The group meets 7 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month at Davidson College Presbyterian Church.
Baker has the real-life experience that qualifies her to facilitate meeting: She has a gay son and a lesbian daughter. Meetings often involve speakers such as counselors, discussion and parents accompanied by the children who have come out to them. The meetings are flexible to offer support to whoever shows up needing it.
“Parents go through a process of coming out too, after their child does. That can be difficult,” said Baker, because it often involves re-evaluating expectations a parent has had for years for their child.
It can be a big adjustment, Baker said, and can leave a parent feeling stunned. For example, adjustment can be particularly difficult when one is a member of a church that will not be accepting of a child or family member’s sexual orientation.
Baker remembers one of her first reactions when her son came outin the 1980s was fear for the well-being of her son and how he might be treated.
“No one wants their child treated like a second-class citizen,” she said.
Baker is happy to report that her fears for her son did not come true. He is now a successful executive.
Now that gay marriage is legal in North Carolina, Baker said her daughter and her daughter’s partner plan to get married in the spring.
Baker’s daughter reacted to the marriage-equality decision, said Baker, by realizing that what she was finally feeling was validation.
Judith Ratcliffe of Huntersville has been attending PFLAG meetings since 2011. Her high-school-age son came out to her when he was in the eighth grade.
“The fact that my son is gay is really one of the least interesting things about him. … All the things you loved about them before are still there,” said Ratcliffe.
Both Ratcliffe and Baker realize individuals are often coming out at much younger ages than in previous generations, and recognize that this may indicate progress in acceptance of various sexual orientations and greater public awareness than years ago.
“Kids see more messages of acceptance in the culture and at home and thankfully, don’t feel they have to hide their identity,” Ratcliffe said.
This trend also means that children are coming out at ages when the parents are still actively raising them, as was Ratcliffe’s experience. She started going to PFLAG meetings for input and advice on how to be the best mom she could be to her gay child. She now enjoys giving the strength she got at those meetings back to others who attend PFLAG meetings needing support and education.
Ratcliffe said she and her husband “were happy to know (our son is gay) because we could parent better” with that knowledge.
Ratcliffe visited the courthouse in Charlotte shortly after gay and lesbian marriage was legalized in North Carolina to sit and watch couples who were finally able to tie the knot emerging after their ceremonies. Some of the couples had been together for decades and were finally able to be legally married.
Baker and Ratcliffe remember providing support at PFLAG meetings after Amendment 1 passed, outlawing gay marriage in North Carolina. At the next meeting, on Nov. 6, they will instead celebrate recently instituted marriage equality.
Baker’s advice for responding to someone close to you who has come out: “Show your love for that person even if you don’t understand. … That’s the most important thing. And then come to PFLAG.”
PFLAG also has chapters in Charlotte, Gastonia and Concord. The nationwide organization was started in 1972 in New York by the mother of a gay son. It has grown to 200,000 dues-paying members nationwide. People do not have to pay to attend support meetings.
“I know in my heart this (sexual orientation) is not a choice. It’s who the person is,” said Baker, “not just who you want to date. It’s who you want to live with, who you want your companion to be.”