Since its founding in 2011, the Highlands Ranch chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) is aiming to extend its reach to more families in the South Metro area.
“We meet in Highlands Ranch, but we consider ourselves the organization for the area south of Denver,” said Jeanette Bowers, who helped found the organization along with her husband, Dick, and members Ann Ogg and Judy Murray.
PFLAG is an advocacy group as well as a resource for those with loved ones who have recently come out. The Bowers’ son, now 42, told them he was gay in the early 1990s.
“We were accepting. The first thing was go to the library (and research what he was going through and how we could help),” Jeanette Bowers said. “The one thing he kept telling us is that he didn’t feel like the others. It’s important that young people who think they may be gay have someone to talk to.”
Murray said her first experience with PFLAG came in 1992, when her son came out to her after college.
“He had a partner and they told me they had been going to these meetings,” she said. “So they brought me to one, and then left me there.”
When Murray and the Bowers were first getting involved with the LGBT community and PFLAG in 1992, Referendum Amendment 2 had just been approved. The law prevented any municipality or county in Colorado from enacting any legislation that would designate gay or lesbian people as a protected class.
The law earned Colorado a new nickname: “the hate state,” Murray said.
A lot has changed since then, with steadily increasing support nationally for same-sex marriage in the past six years, up from 27 percent in 1996 and holding steady at 50 percent or more in 2013, according to Gallup. Members of the organization say community members in Highlands Ranch and the county as a whole have been very supportive, outside of one negative anonymous letter sent to the Highlands Ranch library, where the group meets, in its early months.
“I definitely think it’s a sign of how far things have come, and I think it’s been spurred by a lot of activism,” Murray said, who marched in her first pride parade soon after her son came out, holding a sign that read, “I love my gay son.”
Along with its advocacy work, PFLAG also operates as a support group for parents, family and friends with gay, lesbian or transgender children.
“Some are on different points on their journey of acceptance,” member Josh Wells said. “Some are fast-learning, some struggle and some are completely accepting and looking for like-minded people.”
With no children of their own, Wells and his partner, Tommy Craig, got involved with the organization primarily to help others.
Another member, Tim Gross, came out to his wife 14 years ago and started with a chapter in Cincinnati, where he lived at the time. Now living in the South Metro area, he is a volunteer with PFLAG.
“There’s a saying: `When you no longer need PFLAG, then PFLAG needs you,’” Gross said.
PFLAG teams with organizations like the Gay Straight Alliance, the Center for Teens in Denver and Rainbow Alley, as well as what it calls “welcoming and affirming churches.” The group hosted a picnic for Gay-Straight Alliance members in schools last May and has plans to host another event this year.
“Being gay can be a lonely experience for some kids,” Jeanette Bowers said.
The organization meets from 7-8:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month at the Highlands Ranch Library, 9292 S. Ridgeline Blvd. About 10-20 people show up on average. For more information, visit www.pflaghighlandsranch.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.