Monday, December 10, 2012

Patron saints for straight allies of LGBT people: Adele Starr of PFLAG and others

Adele Starr (photo by Brian van der Brug, Los Angeles Times)

After her son came out in 1974, Adele Starr helped launch the group that became Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. She overcame her negative perceptions about homosexuality to become an unflagging champion for LGBT rights and PFLAG’s first national president. Starr died two years ago today on Dec. 10, 2010 at age 90.

I am including Starr in my LGBT Saints series for her courage and dedication in speaking up for her gay son and for all LGBT people.

I started looking for “patron saints of straight allies” because I noticed that some of the most enthusiastic readers here are parents or children of LGBT people. Finding them has been difficult. One challenge is that the LGBT Saints series honors only those who have died, and many of the most prominent allies are still living. Two saintly candidates who come to mind are PFLAG founder Jeanne Manford, who turned 92 last week on Dec. 4, and Bishop John Shelby Spong, age 81. (Is there a link between long life and being a straight ally?)

“Saint Augustine and Saint Monica”
by Ary Scheffer (Wikimedia Commons)
Among the traditional saints, Saint Monica is a possibility because her son, Saint Augustine of Hippo, was in love with another man. But she was not exactly an ally for queer rights. Monica encouraged her son’s conversion to Christianity, which led him to condemn homosexuality in writings that are still influential today. Some Catholic websites even list Monica as the “patron saint of disappointing children.”

The life of Adele Starr may provide clearer, more contemporary inspiration for today. She was a mother of five living in Los Angeles, California, when her son Philip Starr came out to his parents in 1974. At that time many people still considered homosexuality to be a mental illness, and parents were often blamed for causing it. She was upset, so her son urged her to attend a support group that later evolved into PFLAG.

Two years later she started the Los Angeles chapter of PFLAG, loosely based on a group in New York. She hosted the first meeting in her home with 35 parents. The group grew quickly and soon moved to the Methodist church in Westwood where it still meets almost 40 years later.

Starr spoke at the 1979 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. Two years later she was elected as the first national PFLAG president, serving in the early years of the AIDS crisis until 1986.

Starr explained her motivations with powerful eloquence at PFLAG’s 10th anniversary conference: “We did it out of love and anger and a sense of injustice, and because we had to tell the world the truth about our children.”

PFLAG is now a Washington-based national non-profit organization with 200,000 members and supporters and more than 350 affiliates in the United States and abroad. It provides support, education and advocacy for LGBT people, their families, friends and allies.

Please leave comments to suggest other patron saints of heterosexual allies. I’m looking for saints who are parents of LGBT children, children of LGBT parents, spouses married to LGBT people, and all the other variations. I am already planning to write a profile of Saint Paulinus of Nola and his wife Therasia. They have been called the patron saints of gay men married to women because they both did missionary work while he wrote homoerotic poetry.
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Related links:

Adele Starr dies at 90; unflagging gay-rights activist (Los Angeles Times)

PFLAG Mourns the Death of First-Ever PFLAG National President Adele Starr (PFLAG.org)

In memory of PFLAG founder Jeanne Manford (Jesus in Love)

Tribute to Mrs. Edith Allen (Mom) Perry, mother of MCC founder Rev. Troy Perry and thousands of people in Metropolitan Community Churches (revtroyperry.org)

Straight Parents, Gay Children: Keeping Families Together by Robert A. Bernstein

The Other Side of the Closet: The Coming-Out Crisis for Straight Spouses and Families, Revised and Expanded Edition by Amity Pierce Buxton.

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This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts



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4 comments:

SCG said...

Yay!!! Thank you so much for writing about the powerful sainthood of PFLAG moms like Adele Starr. Our straight allies need to be reminded that without their voices, the chorus singing out for equality isn't nearly full enough.

Trudie said...

Fascinating post, Kitt. I have a suggestion for you as a "departed straight ally" - Ma Perry. I'm surprised that she didn't spring immediately to your mind as you were writing this.

We almost had her as a guest in our home years ago. Troy for many years in the '80's and '90's had a tradition of celebrating Easter with First MCC of Atlanta - at the beginning, MCC of the Blessed Redeemer. His mother was going to stay at our home during one such visit, except that it turned out she was allergic to cats. Sigh.

Kittredge Cherry said...

Thanks for reminding me of Edith Perry! I found her photo tribute page at Troy’s website and added the link to the main post. He describes her as “EDITH ALLEN PERRY (1916 - 1989), mother of Troy, Eugene, Jimmy, Jack, and Jerry, and "Mom" to thousands of her children in the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches."

Here’s the link:
Tribute to Mrs. Edith Allen (Mom) Perry, mother of MCC founder Rev. Troy Perry and thousands of people in Metropolitan Community Churches (revtroyperry.org)

I suppose I didn’t think of Edith Perry because I never had the opportunity to meet her. Your story of how she “almost” stayed in your home reminds me of those “George Washington slept here” legends. Smile. One of my friends claims to have inherited a used bed from Edith too.

SCG, thanks for expressing your appreciation. When I was working on this, I saw that there is nothing like it out on the Internet. I wonder if it was an unmet need, or a subject of little interest. So far the readership is small but enthusiastic.

Nancy Radclyffe said...

Thanks for beginning this series on our straight allies and Adele Starr is an excellent choice for a starting point. Edith Perry is also an excellent choice and she was a guest in my home. She certainly is a saint. Nancy R