Advocacy work has always been a special passion for Becky Lucas. And when her 17-year-old son came out to her in 2009, she knew how she could not only be a supportive parent, but make a difference in the larger community as well.
“I’m a former special-ed teacher, president of the Tennessee Conference on Social Welfare and have been involved in the Maryville College GSA for many years,” said Lucas, who also teaches education at Maryville College. “All of these activities have been an outlet for my inner advocate. Helping others, who might feel undervalued/discounted/discarded, is a cool thing. Finding ways to give voice to issues that many people don’t want to acknowledge can be very empowering and satisfying for all involved.”
Her son’s coming out led to a deeper commitment to social issues, and eventually to join with others to co-found PFLAG Maryville, a chapter of the national Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays organization, as well as serve as its first president.
“I realized in the days following [my son’s announcement] that my advocacy efforts for LGBT students/youth had been noble, but had not prepared me for what would lie ahead for my family,” Lucas said. “At the moment he came out, my parental responsibilities grew exponentially. Helping your straight kid grow into a healthy, confident, resilient young adult is a huge responsibility and commitment, but helping your gay teen get to that healthy, confident, resilient adult place can be overwhelming and debilitating.
“I immediately wanted to know how we, as parents, could help our gay teen navigate the coming out process and the later process of living out in a small, conservative town in the South,” she continued. “I wanted to give my son the tools to stand up to prejudice and discrimination and hate. I wanted to give him permission to love who he is and to celebrate all that it means for him to be gay. I wanted his siblings to have the tools they might need as their brother worked through the process of coming out to other family members, his school peers, and others.”
She was familiar with PFLAG and was able to tap into the national organization’s online resources, as well as establishing a network of other GLBT organizations to further her own education and that of others parents she was beginning to come into contact with. In short order, the Maryville PFLAG idea began to take root. And once the charter was obtained, some very clear plans of action were laid.
“At the very least, we want to be a resource for all people in our community by hosting educational events, by providing support materials, by publicizing GLBT events, by listening to someone who needs to be heard,” Lucas said. “As a group, we can do so much to educate others about the LGBT community. Each of us can share our personal story of how we came to be involved in moving equality forward.”
The group’s Facebook page has been up and running for several weeks, and has become a strong outreach tool for PFLAG members and friends as well as the local GBLT community. The first official meeting for PFLAG Maryville will be held on Sept. 2 at 6:30 p.m. in Fayerweather Hall at Maryville College, which is cosponsoring the event. It’s a “back to school” type of event, but will also serve as an official kickoff for the organization as it ramps up to advocate and support its members and the GBLT community at large, Lucas said.
“We have invited all the local high school and college GLBT organizations to join us and be recognized for their good work and courage,” Lucas said. “We will introduce the leaders of PFLAG Maryville and encourage our community to be open to learning more about LGBT issues. In future meetings, we will host guest speakers, panel discussions, a film series … We hope to focus our energies and resources on youth initiatives. We need passionate people to join with us to move equality forward.”
As a heterosexual woman with a gay child, Lucas said her experience might allow her to speak openly about GLBT issues, more so than someone who grew up in the region and is still closeted.
“I recognize and respect the power of being a straight ally who is also the parent of a gay teen and his two hetero siblings. When I talk to people about my story, I get varied reactions, but most of the time, people are supportive and interested to know more,” she said. “We have to be willing to share these stories so we can eliminate misperceptions and stereotypes about the GLBT community and their families. That is something we can all do, and it doesn’t take a lot of effort. I do understand that this is much easier said than done for many people. It is a lot easier for me as a straight ally to talk about my experience in Maryville than it might be for my gay friends who have grown up in this community and are not out with everyone.”
That said, she adds that the sky’s the limit for PFLAG Maryville, and that she sees no reason why the chapter can’t grow a great deal in the coming months and years, and add to the community as it does so. In fact, she has quite a wish list that she and the other members would like to start seeing come true.
“In my wildest dreams, this chapter will grow to include thousands of members,” she said. “We will build GLBT youth spaces and regularly celebrate the GLBT who live here. We will see [gay-straight alliances] in every high school. Bullying and harassment of GLBT people will not be tolerated. Every employer in Blount County will have a non-discrimination policy that protects sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. GLBT business owners will be recruited and thrive here. Maryville College will attract the top GLBT students and our GLBT Student Center will be a model for other schools. Voters in Blount County will vote for equality in every political race and demand that our candidates be informed advocates of the LGBT community. Finally, our GLBT sons, daughters, friends, neighbors and co-workers will have the same rights as the hetero members of this community. Is that too much to ask?”
For more information on PFLAG Maryville contact Lucas at [email protected]