The Rev. Jeremy McLeod is pastor of Wellspring United Church of Christ in Centreville. He's also openly gay.
But when he moved here last summer and looked for a local PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) group, he couldn't find one.
"When I came to the area in August, there were PFLAG groups in Alexandria and Winchester, but nothing in between," said McLeod. "So I started asking why."
He and PFLAG officials then started working on "getting something to take root in the Route 28 Corridor between Manassas and Dulles Airport," he said. "It would offer easy access for people living in western Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun counties and Manassas."
As a result, an organizational meeting is planned for Sunday, Feb. 29, at 2 p.m. in the community room of the Prince William County Library at 8601 Mathis Ave. in Manassas. "We'll see if there's interest in starting a group and, if so, we'll go ahead and organize it," said McLeod. "Then we'll decide where [and how often] it should meet."
Actually, Metro D.C. PFLAG is putting on the event, with organizational help from Wellspring UCC and Equality Fairfax. "PFLAG started out to be a support group for parents and friends, but now it's also for the GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered] community, as they come out," said McLeod. "It gives education, outreach and support."
RHONDA BUCKNER, executive director of Metro D.C. PFLAG, said the organization was started by a mom who marched in the New York City Gay Pride Parade, 30 years ago, with a sign saying, "I love my son." He'd been a gay-bashing victim and, after the parade, other gays asked her to talk to their parents for them. They began to meet, and PFLAG was born.
It now has 500 chapters in the U.S. and abroad. Buckner's group, now in its 21st year, has more than 900 members and supporters. Besides the District, it also covers the Northern Virginia and Maryland suburbs.
"The rule of thumb is that, in any population, you're going to have roughly 10 percent who are gay or lesbian," said McLeod. "Especially in a place where there is not an area of 'gay turf' — something visible like Dupont Circle, where a high concentration of gays and lesbians live and meet — it's important that we create safe places where we can gather for mutual support."
"When someone you love comes out, it's not only a change for their life, but for the lives of their family members and friends," he explained. "And PFLAG has a tremendous record of helping moms, dads, sisters and brothers understand what's going on and how best to respond."
"There are a lot of people out there who are still closeted — not telling their family, friends and co-workers," added Buckner. "So a group like this is important because these people need information and support to go through the journey to acceptance."
SHE SAID many straight people don't think they know anyone who's gay. But, said Buckner, "When they realize their neighbor who has two kids and carpools their kids to soccer or ballet — or goes to the same church or synagogue — is gay, then it will naturally create a more accepting community."
Then, she said, people can learn that the stereotypes they believed aren't true and that "these are people who live a moral life and contribute to society in many ways" — in civic, religious and political circles. She said the new group will decide whether it wants to focus on education, with guest speakers, support or anything else.
With one in four families having a member who's GLBT, said Buckner, "We're looking at how do you provide support in the 21st century? One of our main messages is that relationships are precious and shouldn't be given up because of sexual orientation or gender identity. PFLAG is here to help keep families together."
The third entity involved in the upcoming meeting is Equality Fairfax. Under President Paula Prettyman, it's been in existence since June 2002. It has a mailing list of some 530 people and about 125 paid members — including residents of Centreville, Chantilly and Clifton.
"Our mission is to advance GLBT equality in Fairfax County by offering them social and educational events, as well as to reach out to our mainstream Fairfax County neighbors to raise awareness regarding GLBT concerns," said Prettyman. As for PFLAG, she called it "a wonderful resource for our friends and families."
SHE SAID it could help answer questions that people have. "One of the most difficult things for a parent to deal with is learning their child is gay," she said. "It's a very traumatic time, and PFLAG helps them all get through it so parents can begin to enjoy their children for who they are and adjust their expectations about what their life is really going to be."
Prettyman said too many gays lose their own families when they tell them what they want to be and what makes them happy. "There is nothing like seeing someone who's not hugged by a mother being hugged by a PFLAG mom," she said. "It's an incredibly moving experience."
Here in the local area, said Buckner, "We really are asking parents and family members to step up to the plate and take that beginning step on the journey. They owe it to their kids and their family members. Unconditional love is [both] the responsibility and gift of parenting and family relationships. So what we are really espousing are true, family values."
For more information, see the Web site, www.pflagdc.org., or call 202-638-3852 and ask for Emily Ahmadu. "We're going to do all we can to help folks who need the organization, find it," said Prettyman. "It's going to be wonderfully successful, I'm sure."