Each August as a new school year looms, LGBTQ students and parents are hopeful that this year, things will change — there are new teachers, new opportunities to make friends, perhaps even an entirely new school that is more affirming. Sometimes things get off on the right foot. Some years, they don’t. That’s when PFLAG chapters come into play.
“Back to school and right after holidays are the two peak times,” Ann Miller, president of PFLAG Johns Creek and parent of a transgender son, told Georgia Voice. “Back to school time is busy because kids have an expectation, and parents too, that the new school year will be better than the old school year. Maybe they’re going to a new school, maybe they’ve socially transitioned over the summer and they’re going back as their true selves; there are new coping strategies. And lots of times they go back to school and it’s the same old stuff: it’s the same kids, the same misgendering.”
Miller said her chapter sees about a 50 percent increase in meeting attendees around this time of year.
PFLAG, which refers to itself as the extended family of LGBTQ individuals, has chapters across the country, including eight in Georgia. Five of those are in the metro Atlanta area, including PFLAG Johns Creek.
Though she couldn’t speak for the other chapters in and around Georgia, Miller said she anticipates the rise in crowds in early fall and plans meetings accordingly. In the summer, for example, she has one teen room open and will open a second if the need arises. Come the school year, however, she knows the meetings will start with two rooms and a third facilitator is on-call for more.
What makes PFLAG different is the peer-to-peer support for both students and parents, something Miller called “the cornerstone” of her organization. Facilitators and experienced members can share what worked for them, how they contacted school officials, even share verbiage and form letters to make that process more seamless, all in efforts to help LGBTQ students feel safe and at home in their school settings.
“That’s what’s really powerful because there’s nothing like someone who’s been there to speak to what you’re going through,” she said.
Her chapter also partners with Georgia Safe Schools Coalition and there is always a representative at the Johns Creek meetings, ready especially to work with parents new to the group.
“We have a little saying that, ‘When you no longer need PFLAG, PFLAG needs you,’” Miller said. “When I started, first I came as a member with a trans son needing support, and then I became a facilitator of our groups.”
She’s been president of the chapter for four years, and in that period saw first-hand how the meetings and socials PFLAG hosts affect the kids they support.
“We have kids come and they have no friends at school, or one friend at school, and no one likes them, and then they walk into this room where everyone is like them,” Miller said. “It is liberating in a way that I know I’ll never be able to appreciate. They have friends, they have things they can do. … It’s critical. It’s life or death critical.”