PFLAG’s Executive Director Discusses His Catholic Roots

July 23, 2012

Jody Huckaby, the Executive Director of PFLAG (Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), is profiled in The Advocate, the national LGBT news magazine.

A native of the heavily Catholic state of Louisiana, Huckaby’s profile begins with a familiar story:

“Jody M. Huckaby grew up Catholic, went to Catholic schools and was raised by devout Catholic parents in Eunice.

“So when Huckaby, 47, told his parents while he was in college that he is gay, it was “tough” to do, he recalls.

“ ‘It’s very hard when your religion tells you something is wrong but then you are talking about your child’” Huckaby said recently.

“Still, his parents, who were both raised in Church Point, eventually accepted Huckaby for who he is.

“ ‘They started out rejecting it. Then they moved to tolerance and then went to acceptance and finally they celebrated it,’ Huckaby said.

“The personal journey Huckaby and his parents went through was one of the big reasons Huckaby took a job more than seven years ago as executive director of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays National, also known as PFLAG National.

“PFLAG is a family and straight ally organization that helps to advance equality for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals through support, education and advocacy.”

Jody Huckaby

The article notes that PFLAG is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.  Begun in 1972, the organization now has over 350  chapters across the country.  Huckaby will be visiting one of the newest chapters in Baton Rouge, the capital of his native state, as this local group celebrates their first anniversary:

“Huckaby said he is excited to speak in Baton Rouge next month not only because of his family ties to Louisiana — he has a sister living in the capital city who is a Catholic nun — but because of the population growth the city has experienced since Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana in 2005.

“The Baton Rouge chapter president, Carol Frazier, said the organization has achieved steady attendance at its monthly meetings at the Unitarian Church on Goodwood Boulevard.

“ ‘We have between 25 and 35 attendees each month. I think that’s good compared to other chapters that are only a year old. We do see new people each month,’ Frazier said.

“The Baton Rouge meetings usually feature a guest speaker as well as breakout sessions enabling small groups of members to talk about “whatever comes up,” Frazier said.

“ ‘The parents meet in their own group. They don’t always feel comfortable with the younger people,’ Frazier said.

“Varied reactions, feelings and emotions frequently arise in those smaller sessions, Frazier said, ranging from tears and laughter to silence, she said.

“ ‘You can see an interesting growth in people. I remember a mom who came and she didn’t say a word. She didn’t accept her child’s news. Now she speaks freely and is very accepting,’ Frazier said.”

Huckaby offers advice based on his own family’s experience:

“ ‘You can’t preach. People will just walk away. A big message we have is you do not have to throw out your faith to be accepting and loving,’ Huckaby said.

“Although Huckaby and his parents had no experiences with PFLAG when he confided back in college that he is gay, his mother’s turning point to acceptance and understanding of her son came from another, more traditional source.

“Huckaby said his mother read the ‘Dear Abby’ column in the Eunice News religiously throughout her life.

“One day, she read a letter in the column from the mother of a lesbian who asked how she was supposed to deal with the news.

“ ‘The advice was, you still need to love your child just like you did the day before. The second piece of advice was to go find PFLAG and get more information,’ Huckaby said.”

At New Ways Ministry, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, we have witnessed the good work of PFLAG for most of its history.  Although not a religious organization, PFLAG’s simple example of listening, solidarity, and support is a model for the way ministry to parents of LGBT people should flourish.

Fortunate Families, a national network of Catholic parents with LGBT sons and daughters, provides just this type of ministry from a Catholic perspective, in the form of their Listening Parents network:  parents who have been through the experience of their child’s coming out who are available to listen to and be supportive of parents who are just learning such news. (The founders of Fortunate Families, Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata, have contributed two blog posts to Bondings 2.0 on family ministry.  You can access those here and here.)

New Ways Ministry salutes PFLAG on their 40th anniversary and prays in thanksgiving for all they have done to make the world a better place for LGBT people!  We wish them every success in the future!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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