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New group helps families of gays, lesbians
When Jody Michaud's lesbian daughter first came out to her, she was taken "aback" by the announcement. Her then 19-year-old daughter, Tiffany Richardson, revealed her secret in a letter.
"I wasn't expecting it. I have plenty of gay friends, but it's not what I wanted for her," said Michaud, 52, a Yuma school bus driver.
She cried for three days, prayed and then talked about it before coming to peace with the unexpected information.
"I educated myself, found out it's OK. I love her dearly, I wouldn't change anything about her," Michaud recalled.
The Yuma mother went on to become a driving force behind establishing the first PFLAG chapter in Yuma. The acronym stands for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, known as PFLAG (pronounced P-Flag).
Meetings are held at 5 p.m., every fourth Sunday of the month at the Foothills Alano Club, 12535 S. Foothills Blvd.
To contact PFLAG in Yuma call Michaud at 580-9553, Michael Baughman at 246-4856 or send e-mail to yuma @PFLAGArizona.org.
More information can also be found online at www.pflagarizona.org/yuma or www.pflag.org. PFLAG Yuma is also on Facebook.
Richardson, now 27 and working at a Yuma coffee shop, noted that the parents of gay children "feel alone in the world."
"Parents go through something similar to what their children go through," she said.
Richardson grew up knowing she was lesbian, but hid the fact. "I was scared to come out. I tried to be normal. Then I came to realize I was not happy with myself, I was not being true."
After graduating from high school in Yuma, Richardson moved to California. "I thought I couldn't come out here. I was afraid no one would accept me," she said.
Nevertheless, Richardson decided "it was time to take a hold of my life" and wrote her mother.
At that time, Michaud went through the process alone and wished there had been a group she could have turned to for support.
Her involvement with PFLAG began with the Yuma premiere of the documentary "Amancio … Two Faces on a Tombstone," which chronicles the efforts of The Amancio Project to comfort and find justice for the family of Amancio Corrales. A 23-year-old gay man who performed as a female impersonator, Corrales was brutally murdered in May 2005.
Michaud said the documentary "sparked my inspiration to try to help any way I can." She approached Michael Baughman, Yuma resident and documentary protagonist, and asked, “I have a lesbian daughter. What can I do?” Without hesitation, Baughman replied, “Start a PFLAG here in Yuma.”
Michaud researched the non-profit grassroots organization, then contacted PFLAG Phoenix and got the ball rolling. Local residents signed on as the first officers of the chapter, including Michaud as president, Richardson, who returned to Yuma a year ago, as secretary, and Baughman as treasurer. The Yuma chapter held the first public organizational meeting in late January.
The chapter offers personal and confidential counseling in person or by phone. The group has established a book and DVD lending library and has informational pamphlets covering a wide range of topics.
Michaud said PFLAG's goals are to support the parents, family and friends of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender individuals and help them cope with an "adverse society" and "navigate their loved one's coming out process."
"There are so many misconceptions about the gay and lesbian community," Michaud said. "It's so steeped in tradition and misinformation."
The group also hopes to educate an "ill-informed public" and provide "advocacy to end discrimination and to secure equal human rights for or on behalf of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals and families, and their parents, families and friends."
"It's for everyone, to learn from each other, for support and fellowship," Michaud said.
She added that she wants parents, family and friends to know that "we have been through much of what you are now feeling. We understand."
Michaud is excited about her role in establishing the new Yuma chapter. "It's an honor to be able to do it. It's like a personal mission," she said.
Baughman noted: "It's a long time coming."
The Web site cites that one in every 10 people in this country and around the world is gay. The site also states that approximately one in four families has an immediate family member who is gay and that most people have at least one gay individual in their extended circle of friends and family.
According to its organizers, PFLAG Yuma welcomes parents, family members, friends, other straight allies, gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender or “questioning” individuals and families and anyone else who wishes to support the PFLAG mission.
According to www.PFLAG.org, the reaction of many parents, family and friends who first learn that their loved one is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender can "range anywhere from anger to sadness, fear to hurt, confusion to grief, and anywhere and everything in between.
The site states: "These emotions and the thousands of others that parents, families, and friends experience as they navigate their loved ones coming out process are normal. We can tell you with absolute certainty that you're not alone."
Mara Knaub can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6856.