First Lady Jill Biden, Adm. Rachel Levine, Karine Jean-Pierre and more joined hundreds of LGBTQ+ people, families and allies. Photos: Paul Morigi/Getty Images for PFLAG National)
Sunday afternoon, Oct. 22, the PFLAG National Convention came to a joyful close as Karine Jean-Pierre, one of the most visible openly queer people in the U.S., and Brian K. Bond, PFLAG’s CEO, hosted an intimate conversation during the closing luncheon of Learning with Love: The 2023 PFLAG National Convention. The event opened on Friday, Oct. 20 with remarks by First Lady Jill Biden.
“At its core, PFLAG is about family — and family is love,” the First Lady told the audience of 430. “I am here today to applaud your 50 years of service and advocacy. And to ask you to keep going. Continue to summon Jeanne [Manford]’s courage. Because the world needs those small acts of love now more than ever,” she continued.
Other luminaries who graced the historic LGBTQ+ organization’s stage included Admiral Rachel Levine, M.D., the 17th Assistant Secretary for Health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, MSNBC’s Ali Velshi, American Library Association President Emily Drabinski, author Arvin Ahmadi, American Medical Association President Jesse Ehrenfeld, M.D., M.P.H., Red Wine and Blue’s Julie Womack, and writer, transgender activist, and military veteran Charlotte Clymer.
In his opening remarks to convention attendees, PFLAG CEO Brian K. Bond acknowledged the challenges LGBTQ+ people, parents, families and allies have faced due to organized and funded efforts to cause them harm. Yet, a sense of strength and optimism prevailed throughout the four-day event that began with a lobby day on Capitol Hill on Oct. 19. “PFLAG’s work is critical. Your voices matter,” Bond said. “I see moments every day of selflessness and bravery, and all along the way I get to meet incredible people, including all of you here in this room.”
Highlights of the convention included a Banned Books Week-themed plenary, Let Freedom Read! Read With Love to Support Inclusive Books and Education, moderated by Velshi on Friday, following the First Lady’s remarks.
“One of the greatest things about this country is the freedom to read what you want and be who you are. The kids are on our side, the readers are on our side, and most Americans are on our side if they know about what’s going on,” said Arvin Ahmadi, whose 2020 book How It All Blew Up is among the thousands of books banned or challenged this year.
Saturday’s hot-button event, Courageous Love in Trans Healthcare, addressed the reason PFLAG is suing three states and one governor this year. Susan Thronson, Chair of the PFLAG National Board of Directors and the first parent of a transgender person to hold that position, introduced the event by emphasizing, “For the first time in PFLAG’s 50-year history, we are serving as plaintiffs in four lawsuits across three states — Texas, Missouri and North Carolina — to make it clear that PFLAG will always advocate for transgender youth, their families and their health care providers.”
Adm. Levine, who is a pediatrician, made her position and that of the Dept. of Health and Human Services clear, “I think it’s critically important to understand that gender affirming care is essential healthcare. It is medical care. Gender affirming care is mental health care. Gender affirming care is literally suicide prevention care.”
Along with learning about how to put their love into action, those who attended the PFLAG National Convention came together to honor award winners, including Dayton, Ohio’s Michael Knote of Have a Gay Day with the “Morty Manford Volunteerism Award,” and chapters including PFLAG Westminster-Carroll County, Md., PFLAG Georgetown, Texas, PFLAG Great Lakes Bay Region, Mich., and PFLAG Fort Collins, Colo. with PFLAG National Chapter Awards.
From Oct. 19-22, PFLAG National hosted more than 30 events, including workshops, trainings, networking events, plenaries, socials, and a lobby day. The event was attended by more than 400 chapter leaders, members, LGBTQ+ people, parents, youth, families and allies from across the U.S., the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia, as well as leaders from 14 international PFLAG organizations. Countries represented by these groups included Canada, China, Costa Rica, Lebanon, Lithuania, Moldova, Panama, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Taiwan, Uganda, Ukraine, and Vietnam. The event was sponsored by OREO, Meta, and Lyft, and took place in Arlington, Va. at the DoubleTree Crystal City.