PFLAG Portland is one of the oldest chapters in the PFLAG network, with a 40 year history of support to the LGBTQ community. But PFLAG Portland’s history begins long before it bore the name PFLAG.
PFLAG Portland cofounders Bill and Ann Shepherd with their daughter Susie announcing the formation of Parents of Gays in 1977. This article in the now-defunct Oregon Journal was among the first mentions of gay kids in Oregon media (courtesy GLAPN)
1977: Parents of Gays
PFLAG Portland’s founders, Ann and Bill Shepherd and Rita and Charles Knapp, had become active in LGBT issues after their daughters, Susie and Kristan, respectively, came out in the early 1970s.
In 1977 Oregon Governor Bob Straub’s Task Force on Sexual Preference, of which Ann was a member, noted the need for a parents’ support group. Soon thereafter the Knapps and Shepherds founded Parents of Gays (POG), meeting monthly in the Shepherds’ living room.
1982: PFLAG Portland
Soon after the National Network founding meeting in Los Angeles in 1981, Parents of Gays elected to join the PFLAG National Network as PFLAG Portland.
1990: The Initiatives Years
1990-2004 was a time of intense cultural battles at the ballot box. PFLAG Portland's membership and influence grew steadily during this time as initiative after initiative restricting the freedoms of LGBTQ Oregonians was introduced, culminating in the devastating 2004 One Man-One Woman marriage amendment to Oregon's Constitution.
2006: A New Outreach
In 2006 PFLAG Portland refocused on community-building efforts, Transgender Portlanders, and Portland's Communities of Color. New community partnerships and a new "satellite chapter" organizational structure in 2009 led to the launching of PFLAG Portland Black Chapter, the first PFLAG chapter created by and for Portland's black community.
2014: Suddenly, Equality
Well, not quite. With 2014's and 2015's momentous legal victories for LGBTQ folks across Oregon and the country, a part of the landscape for our community changed, but not the need for PFLAG's mission of family support. In 2014 the East County satellite chapter was opened and quickly established itself as the safe space for Portland's East Side suburbs. The PFLAG Portland Chapters developed more Training and Policy Partnering to meet Portlanders' need for fact-based policy and action in support of their LBGTQ friends, family, and colleagues.
2016: Changing with Portland
As Portland grew and prospered, so did the surrounding suburbs -becoming increasingly diverse. 2016 saw the opening of a new Washington County chapter, heightened interest in new chapters throughout the expanding Metro area, and PFLAG Portland Black Chapter becoming an independent organization serving Portland's black LGBTQ young adults.
The victories of 2014 and 2015 also changed the nature of support organizations. With the legal arguments for and against marriage equality settled decisively, the movement finally could direct its full resources towards the legal and cultural recognition of transgender people. PFLAG as well saw its community evolve - the majority were now transgender individuals or young families with gender-expansive children navigating a vastly more treacherous journey.
2020: Clouded Horizons, Redoubled Committment
Portland's economic and social landscape has dramatically changed. Now becoming something of a world city like its bigger neighbors to the North, Portland is struggling to retain the unique sense of community that has made it such a desirable place to live. Our PFLAG community has been moving steadily towards the suburbs, or, with ever-tighter personal schedules and family demands, away from in-person gatherings. PFLAG's safe space needed to include cyberspace, so we introduced PFLAG Connects Online Support Circles to uphold the PFLAG tradition of meeting people where they are - both in their personal journeys and in ways that better fit in to their life and work.
As online support took center stage with the indefinite COVID-related suspension of in-person gatherings PFLAG Portland discovered it could better respond to the community's needs with online meetings and online-facilitated services. The Family of Chapters, created during a time when in-person meetings were the norm, was consolidated into a single entity once again - PFLAG Portland.
Through much of its history, PFLAG's work has been to keep families strong during the struggle to gain legal equality and cultural acceptance for our LGBTQ citizens. With the results of the 2016 National Election, the more supportive legal and cultural landscape for LGBTQ Americans that had been growing since 2010 suffered repeated legislative and judicial reversals at the national level and ever more brazen attacks directed especially at transgender people. While our state remains committed to equality, our community is regrouping for what it knows is a long campaign ahead. The struggle for cultural acceptance, the only guarantor of our legal protections, is nowhere near its end.
As always, PFLAG will be at the forefront of keeping families strong as our community defends its hard-won advances, our advocacy always focused on making our society more compassionate; towards not just accepting, but celebrating the wonderful diversity of our LGBTQ neighbors, families, and friends.