Feature A lifeline for parents 

PFLAG doesn’t want families to go into the closet when their loved ones come out

Yvonne Jonas wants you to know that she is available anytime. “Sometimes when I answer the help-line phone it’ll be some woman crying her heart out; she can’t even catch her breath,” says Jonas, the one-woman band who runs the San Antonio chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. “I don’t let them hang up until they’ll laugh.”

Jonas is something of a legend in the San Antonio gay and lesbian community. She has been a member of PFLAG since 1996, and in 1998 she founded the city’s first gay-youth support group. In 1999, she received the Pride Community Service Award, and last year the Human Rights Commission honored her record of service and leadership.

“The ideal thing is to have parents there at the meeting so they can tell their stories. And then the new person who’s there, who’s hurting so badly, can really get help.”

– Yvonne Jonas

Now, the cheerful grandmother and wife of 53 years anchors San Antonio’s small support group for the families and friends of gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgendered individuals.

“We’ve always had trouble getting a group to stay together,” says Jonas. The organization averages nine people at the monthly meetings, held the first Thursday of each month at 121 W. Woodlawn. “The ideal thing is to have parents there at the meeting so they can tell their stories. And then the new person who’s there, who’s hurting so badly, can really get help.”

Jonas speaks from personal experience. When her daughter came out to her many years ago, Jonas, a church-going Christian, says she spent a year studying the Bible. “I realized the Bible did not say any of those crummy things,” that anti-gay fundamentalists claim, she says. She later left her church because the leadership wouldn’t let her distribute PFLAG literature.

Jonas says she mans the San Antonio PFLAG hotline and e-mail as many hours as she can because she doesn’t want to miss that crucial phone call from someone who needs her help. “A lot of times, when the child comes out of the closet, the parent goes into that closet,” she says. “I tell them, you need to grieve, because most of the time the gay person has grieved, too.”

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PFLAG is a national organization that claims more than 200,000 members and 500 chapters, some of which are more active than San Antonio’s group. The Houston PFLAG recently produced a DVD, A Biological Explanation for Human Sexual Orientation, compiled and narrated by Dr. Cynthia Chappell, a professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health and a PFLAG member. “No political or value judgments,” says Houston chapter President Jim Null. “Just a review of what the research says.”

Null says the group receives several requests a week for the DVD, an important tool in confronting the “reparative therapy” movement, which argues that homosexuals can be converted or “saved.” The Houston chapter also has taken the initiative in making presentations to schools about their responsibility to protect students who they know are being harassed because of their sexual orientation.

Null, who serves as PFLAG’s regional director for Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, says that Texas’ chapters range from simple hotlines to small organizations such as San Antonio’s and large groups in Dallas and Houston. “I think probably one of the problems in a place like San Antonio is it’s much more difficult to come out in ethnic and minority communities.” Null adds that while it is easier today for young people to come out, “If the parents are religiously fundamental or evangelical I think it’s maybe harder now than even 15 years ago.”

San Antonio’s PFLAG may be small, but Jonas stays focused on what Null calls the most important goal of the organization: supporting the families and friends of gays and lesbians so that they are not rejected by their communities.

“In the future we’re hoping that more people will realize that gay people did not choose this and they want just what everybody else has,” says Jonas. “They want to be able to have a house and a good job and a partner.”

By Elaine Wolff



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