For the past 28 years, Mrs. Jane Daroff and Dr. Jes Sellers, along with a group of other volunteers, have been helping families and members of the LGBTQ community by offering a safe environment for those struggling with accepting a loved one’s sexuality. Almost three decades ago, Mrs. Daroff and Dr. Sellers co-founded the Cleveland chapter of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians And Gays, an all-volunteer, non-profit organization) with the intention of facilitating a dialogue about sexuality and acceptance among members of their community. Nested in a room at the Trinity Cathedral in downtown Cleveland, the monthly meetings PFLAG has run for all these years offer support and education using a group dynamic. The format of these meetings, which run for about two hours, works better than individual counseling: “In a group setting like this, we saw that in a very short time, people were able to move on with their lives much more rapidly than with individual counseling. There’s something about people with similar concerns that are able to support each other […] you can see that three meetings later, there’s a huge difference from where they started,” says Mrs. Daroff.
Sitting in a large circle, sometimes of up to 50 people, self-disclosure through interaction is encouraged. Attendees share their experiences and contribute to the discussion, and in the process they learn there are many others going through the same: “We help families to know that it’s OK to be gay or to have a gay child”, says Mrs. Daroff. In the meetings, members are invited to openly discuss their particular situation or simply listen to others’ stories. At the end of the session, small casual groups gather to continue the conversation. Through this organized and communal approach, the fear, hatred, embarrassment, and shame are reduced and replaced by understanding and acceptance: “We don’t lecture or use PowerPoint presentations; we support family members by giving them information,” declares Dr. Sellers.
For Dr. Sellers “it is rewarding to hear the responses people have to one another in the group. It is through this dialogue that they begin to realize that things can get better”. And things do get better. PFLAG has a motto that goes “When you no longer need PFLAG, that’s when PFLAG needs you”. Many of past attendees who have received support through the monthly meetings and want to give back to the community, have the opportunity to get involved in various activities such as offering educational programs to local groups (schools or churches), sponsoring LGBTQ-friendly film screenings, and organizing fundraisers and special events such as Pride Parade. Oftentimes, during the monthly meetings, a second group led by other attendees branches out “where people don’t discuss coming out but go to hear someone talk about a particular subject that may be of interest to them,” adds Mrs. Daroff.
The same passion that drove the founders of the Cleveland chapter to its creation is still present in everything the group does, but the need for a network of volunteers and an Advisory Board soon became critical to its survival: “We needed an organization of volunteers; we couldn’t sustain it if we did it all ourselves,” explains Dr. Sellers. The group is welcome to all; if you like to attend one of their monthly sessions and meet Mrs. Daroff and Dr. Sellers, you will find them every second Tuesday of each month at Trinity Cathedral, located on Euclid Avenue and 22nd Street in downtown Cleveland. You may also consider joining and supporting the chapter and its advocacy projects by becoming a member. Please, visit their website for more information.
About the Author
Lorena Vernaz Asadi holds a Bachelor of Science in Social Psychology and splits her time between family, work, volunteering activities and gardening. Aside from being an LGBT ally, her interests span migration, human trafficking and interracial relation issues. She is currently applying for graduate school.
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