PFLAG Charleston establishes emergency fund

Peighton Hinote, Contributing Writer

PFLAG Charleston, a local chapter of PFLAG’s national organization, has established an emergency fund to provide assistance to members of the gender and sexual minority community who face short-term crises.

Donna Hudson, co-president of the chapter, said PFLAG aims to support, educate and advocate for the GSM community.

“Coming out for people can be sometimes a risky thing. (It) can put relationships at risk, and without the right federal and state protections it can put things like housing and employment at risk, too,” Hudson said. “Another way it can put people at risk is by jeopardizing support from family members.”

Co-president of the chapter, Judy Looby, said some members of the GSM community do not always have family support.

“So, when they do need help with groceries, with utilities or some sudden emergency, then they can come to us and request money from the fund,” she said.

Along with supporting the GSM community financially, PFLAG Charleston is also committed to connecting those in need with access to other local resources that are available to them.

All PFLAG Charleston board members have ties to the community, providing them with a better understanding of the community’s available resources and current needs.

Hudson herself has been a Charleston resident for 16 years.

“There are lots of community agencies that do provide assistance, and if you are suddenly having the rug pulled out from under you, you may not know about these resources,” Hudson said. “So, in addition to us providing a financial boost, as community members we want to share the knowledge we have so any person can be tapping into those resources as they need it.”

Although the chapter is not specific to Eastern, Hudson said members are aware that the college experience is a time of people discovering who they are, and that the coming out process often happens in college.

Hudson said if a student were to come out during college, there might be family members they once depended on for financial assistance who might then take away their support after learning they are a part of the GSM community.

This can leave individuals stranded financially, making it even more important for PFLAG to provide an emergency safety net for that kind of situation, Hudson said.

“It’s not just college students that experience this,” Hudson said. “It could be a high school student or even someone in the community.”

The group will look at any documentation that individuals can provide about what the money is needed for, like rent, a phone bill or utility bills to ensure the money is being used wisely.

Hudson said it feels great to be a part of a network of groups all working together to move equality forward.

“We want to be able to turn that around as quickly as possible. We won’t be able to sustain someone for very long, but can get them over that initial hump,” Hudson said.

She said programs like this allow people to live in a community where they are free to be themselves.

“Maybe even if in their home community… they aren’t absolutely free to dress in drag or be who they are, here in Charleston, you be you,” Hudson said. “And the adults and families in the community will have your back.”

To be good stewards of the money they were given, the chapter wants to keep a minimum of $500 in the fund at a time, Hudson said.

“Administration of the fund is something of a work in progress. I think we will revisit this as situations evolve and as we garner more financial support,” Hudson said. “The concern we have is that people should not feel so marginalized by just trying to live their lives and be themselves.”

Contributions to the fund are given through donations as well as membership dues.

A portion of each person’s dues goes toward the national group for its lobbying and advocacy work, while the rest stays local and can contribute to the emergency fund.

Looby also said on the front page of the website there is a donate button that will lead people to a form where they can donate online.

Or people who wish to donate can reach anyone they know that is a PFLAG officer and make a personal donation, Looby said.

Applications for financial support from the emergency fund can be accessed by contacting a member through the PFLAG website or through its Facebook page. There is also the option to donate to the fund by mailing a form and donation to PFLAG Charleston PO Box 551 Charleston, IL 61920.

“Our doors are open to people whether they choose to be supporting financial members or not,” Hudson said. “We would like to not give out more than $300 to any one person within a 12-month period, but if someone has an extenuating circumstance, we would certainly look into that.”

Peighton Hinote can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].