Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Patron saints for straight allies: 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 three years ago today on Dec. 10, 2010 at age 90.

Starr is included in the LGBT Saints series here for her courage and dedication in speaking up for her gay son and for all queer people.

Other possible “patron saints of straight allies” include PFLAG founder Jeanne Manford (1920-2013) and Mrs. Edith Allen (Mom) Perry (1916-1989), mother of Metropolitan Community Churches founder Troy Perry.  Among the living, many see role models in two prominent Episcopal / Anglican bishops who were both born in 1931: Desmond Tutu of South Africa and John Shelby Spong of New Jersey.

“St. Augustine and St. Monica”
by Ary Scheffer
(Wikimedia Commons)
As for the traditional saints, Saint Monica might fill the role because her beloved 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.” Saint Paulinus of Nola and his wife Therasia have been called the patron saints of gay men married to women because they both did missionary work while he wrote homoerotic poetry.

The life of Adele Starr provides clear 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 organization 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.

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.

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.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

1 comment:

Trudie said...

Good post, Kitt. Thanks!