Publication:Johnson City Press; Date:Apr 13, 2008; Section:Front Page; Page Number:1A


Gay, lesbian advocacy group launches Tri-Cities chapter

By REX BARBER Press Staff Writer rbarber@johnsoncitypress.com



    A new chapter of the national organization Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays has formed to serve the Tri-Cities area.

    The group will hold its first meeting Thursday at East Tennessee State University’s Warf-Pickel Hall in room 503 at 7 p.m. This meeting is intended to be a brainstorming session to formulate ideas and set the direction for PFLAG of the Tri-Cities.

    Anyone who supports the tenets of the organization, which are to celebrate diversity and support a society that embraces everyone, including those of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, is invited to attend the meeting. The organization also works to make communities safer for and more under-
standing of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning individuals.

    PFLAG was formed in 1973 and has 200,000 members in more than 500 chapters across the country.

    Dr. Kerry Holland, a Johnson City psychologist, the Rev. John Shuck, who pastors at First Presbyterian Church in Elizabethton, and others formed a steering committee to establish the Tri-Cities chapter.

    “We are hoping to create a supportive community for people who have children or family members who are gay and lesbian or bisexual or transgender,” Holland said. “We are wanting to embrace them so they can continue to be a loving family to their children and siblings. And we want to create a similarly open and loving environment for the GLBT community here in the Tri-Cities area.”

    Shuck was a member of the PFLAG chapter in Billings, Mont. As a member of the clergy for 16 years, he has seen families disown their children and the emotional and physical distress experienced by homosexual individuals shunned because of their sexual orientation. He hopes the local PFLAG chapter will provide comfort to those who are facing difficulties because of their sexual identity.

    “I think there’s a great need for people to be who they are and be accepted for who they are and to have their family members accept them,” he said. “I think that so many times people think from religious convictions or other convictions that it’s not OK to be gay. And we want to say ‘No, it really is OK.’ What’s not OK is to discriminate and to act on one’s prejudices.”

    Melanie Teegarden’s 14-yearold daughter faces criticism often because of her sexual orientation. Teegarden will be attending the PFLAG meeting.

    “When people ask her questions about her orientation it tends to be with a hostile undertone, and she’s faced physical aggression in school repeatedly,” Teegarden said. “Strangers come up to her on the street and hurl insults at her. And this is just a way that I can stand up for my daughter and hopefully encourage other parents to stand up for their children as well.”

    Holland said she wants PFLAG to be active in the community and believes that in the next several months the local chapter will be working toward an environment where everyone is accepted.

    “What I would really hope is that several years down the road, we wouldn’t need to have a PFLAG Tri-Cities,” she said. “I don’t think that’s particularly realistic, given the time in which we live in. But I really would like to see a larger, vibrant organization that would be able to advocate in the community for all people; that perhaps we would not just be focusing on creating a supportive community, but we might be able to advocate for change in how things are done in the community and perhaps some legalized discrimination could be made illegal.”

    For more information on PFLAG of the Tri-Cities, visit www.pflagtricities.blogspot.com. For more information on the national organization and its history, visit pflag.org.

    The local chapter’s e-mail address is pflagtricities@yahoo.com. The group should have a Web page up and running in several days, which will be accessed at www.pflagtricities.org.