At one point, we all attended our first PFLAG meeting. For some of us, uniting with the LGBTQ community and allies feels familiar and safe: for others, it can initially feel strange and uncomfortable—something we never expected would be part of our lives. We can say with pride that many first time attendees return to PFLAG and become long time members.
In fact, for over four decades, PFLAG has provided support to families and allies in need, through peer-to-peer support (and for some chapters, via online outreach and telephone hotlines). That’s why PFLAG is often the very first place that people turn to when they or someone they love is coming out as LGBTQ.
Here are answers to some of the typical newcomer questions. You can also contact your local PFLAG chapter for details specific to their support meetings.
Where can I find a PFLAG meeting?
Consult Washington state PFLAG chapters for the complete list. If you have several PFLAG chapters in proximity, feel free to check out the different ones and find your best fit.
I noticed some of your PFLAG chapters meet at churches. Are you connected to a certain faith?
No, not at all. PFLAG is not affiliated with any ethnic, religious, economic or political group. In some cases, chapters meet at churches because they provide an available room—it’s simply a meeting space. PFLAG chapters also meet at libraries, community centers, local restaurants, and so forth.
Who comes to PFLAG meetings?
A diverse range of people.
- Members of the LGBTQ community: that is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or gender-expansive, or queer/questioning.
- Questioning people are those of us who are wonder about our sexual orientation and gender identity and need to further explore our feelings.
- Family and friends of LGBTQ people. Parents, grandparents, siblings and other family members as well as people who care about us.
- Allies: people, both straight and LGBTQ, who want to support others in their journey toward acceptance and equality. We need and deeply value our members who come to support others.
- Advocates: people who want to volunteer and work on behalf of LGBTQ rights.
Presence at our meetings does not indicate any particular sexual orientation or gender identity and we make no assumptions.
Are you all in the same place in your journey?
We are typically in different places along the way and we each bring our own stories. We are first time attendees and chapter founding members, young adults and seniors, families in initial crisis and families farther down the road, folks in the closet and folks out and proud, people ready to talk and people who need to only listen, which we consider a valid form of participation.
What if I feel shocked and even upset that I’m now connected to the LGBTQ community? Can I still attend meetings and express those feelings in front of other LGBTQ people and allies?
Yes. Many of us have experienced a variation of these feelings ourselves. For some of us, it was when we came to terms with our own sexuality and gender issues. For others, it was when we learned our son is gay, or our daughter is transgender, or our spouse is bisexual, or our sibling is genderfluid, and so on. At one time we were all taking our first step and working through intense, often difficult emotions.
We also know that when we identify these complex feelings as our own processing, rather than a judgement about someone else, it honors the safety and dignity of all our attendees. That’s why we encourage communicating using the I-Message. (We’ll discuss it in upcoming section “What if I feel nervous about participating in a support circle?).
From experience, we know that the more we get to know the LGBTQ community, the more assured and comfortable we feel over time. It’s part of our journey toward pride.
Where do PFLAG attendees find commonality?
We are bound by the belief that we are all on a journey to acceptance and equality. Some of us are just starting out, others are farther down the road. We understand that we are not all in the same place. What’s important is our intent to learn, listen, love, and move forward.
What if I’m not out as LGBTQ?
That’s fine. Coming out is a deeply personal process. Some people might take a long time to come out to their family and friends; some might come out incrementally; some might never come out. We respect all choices, understand the often complex dynamics, and make no judgements. Even for those of us who are out in our immediate circle, every encounter with a new person can present the decision to disclose. So coming out (or staying in) is rarely a one-time act but rather a lifelong journey.
We also understand there are two sides of the coming out process: the person who is disclosing they are LGBTQ and the person who is receiving the news, which is often a family member. We support people on both sides of coming out. We’re here to listen, share, and provide you the time and space to be who you are.
What happens at a typical meeting?
PFLAG meetings will vary from chapter to chapter. A typical meeting lasts two hours and consists of three parts: support circles (or “breakout session”), a topic discussion (sometimes via guest speaker/presentation), and a refreshment break. Our formats might differ, but as chapters, we share the common goal of support in its many forms.
- We provide a confidential and comfortable atmosphere where parents, families, friends and LGBTQ persons can learn from each other’s experiences and help one another with patience and love.
- We unify families. We support LGBTQ people and their parents or other loved ones as they go through the coming out process together.
- We meet you where you are. We provide a safe place to be open for people who choose to not disclose they are LGBTQ or for people struggling with questions or fears.
- We learn how to support the entire LGBTQ community through education and advocacy so that we can open hearts and minds and be a voice for full equality.
How do support circles/break out sessions work?
We typically start off with introductions about who we are and why we came to the meeting. That is, if we have a LGBTQ loved one or if we are LGBTQ ourselves. We can introduce ourselves by our first name and share our preferred pronouns. In this circle of confidentiality and trust, we offer peer-to-peer support, where we speak from our hearts, tell our stories, and learn from others.
What if I feel nervous about participating in a support circle?
We understand. That’s why we strive to make our support feel as safe as possible. Our discussions often deal with complex and difficult issues and we’re at different places in our journeys, so many of rely on these guidelines:
- We assume we all come from good intentions. Our words might occasionally be awkward and we might sometimes overstep or miss a point, but our hearts are in the right place and we mean well.
- We express our own experiences and emotions, rather than telling another person what to think, feel, or do. To that end, we try to communicate using the “I-Message“, which expresses feelings and views of the person speaking and typically begins with the word “I.” (In contrast, the “You-Statement” addresses the person being spoken to and begins with the word “You.”)
- We value listening as much as speaking. Listening is not only a form of learning and participation, but also a gift we can give each other. For many of us in the LGBQ community, being seen and heard as our authentic selves is profoundly impactful.
The support we give each other is the heart of our meetings, a time reserved for people to express their concerns, and hear how others have handled similar situations. We talk, we laugh (more than you might expect!), and sometimes we cry, but PFLAGers will tell you that we feel better when we leave than when we arrived.
So is a support meeting like group therapy or seeing a professional counselor?
Not, it is not. PFLAG does not have the intention or training to provide professional counseling services but offer only volunteer, peer-to-support. If you are in need of therapeutic counseling, it’s important to find it from a professional source.
What about confidentiality?
Confidentiality is a deeply held tenant of PFLAG. What is said in our meetings, as well as the identities of persons attending, does not leave the room. The LGBTQ community and its allies are particularly cognizant of the need for privacy and discretion, as it is an issue many of us face in our families and place of employment. We also strive to focus less on the specific names and affiliations of people and more with the deeper issues and lessons at hand.
What does the topic discussion or guest speaker provides?
It provides us education, one of our three tenants. Our guest speaker (or panel of speakers) generally address one of the myriad of LGBTQ topics, including equality, health, education, and so forth. Speakers might talk first and then open the discussion to questions or use a Q&A format the entire presentation. Or we might discuss as a group a pertinent topic facing the LGBTQ community. Our education is strongly tied to our tenant of advocacy: the more we understand LGBTQ issues, the better we can identify the best actions to take on our behalf.
Chapters often ask their guest speakers to share their own personal journey, including their experience growing up LGBTQ, their coming out process, their family and personal relationships, their struggles and successes, and so forth. These stories are motivating and encouraging to all of us and can be particularly important for newcomers and young adults seeking role models and examples of resilience and achievement.
What if I want to advocate on behalf to the LGBTQ community?
We’d love to have you on our team. And attending our support meetings helps you stay on top of LGBTQ issues and our advocacy work. PFLAG chapters typically have a range of volunteer opportunities, like committees, speaker bureaus, information tables, and so forth. We strive to make it doable—a suitable match for your skills, interest, and schedule. You can also volunteer with the PFLAG Washington State Council to help support our existing chapters, grow new ones, and promote statewide initiatives.
What is the refreshments break for?
Eating snacks and socializing! It’s a fun tradition and gives us a chance to relax and transition from one part of our meeting to the next. It also let’s us meet new members and catch up with old friends. Many chapters rely on refreshment contributions from members. Some PFLAG chapters might instead meet where they can share a meal together.
Anything else I need to know?
Please note that no cameras or tape recorders are allowed at our meetings without prior written consent, to assure our commitment to privacy and confidentiality. We also ask that all electronics be shut off or put on silent, to not create a distraction or interruption, and so that we all remain present for each other during the meeting time.