Charleston’s PFLAG chapter, established in 2015, is a safe place for members of the LGBTQ community to go to for support, education and advocacy.
Co-president Judy Looby said she and her husband became a part of PFLAG once their son came out to them in 2009. They decided to go to the closest PFLAG chapter for support, and back then, that was clear over in Champaign-Urbana.
They realized that, with the exception of Eastern’s Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity, there was no organized support for LGBTQ people in Charleston.
“Eastern has the GSD center, which the community is welcome to use, but we felt that there needed to be (a bridge) to cover the whole community (for) people who would not be comfortable going to Eastern,” Looby said. “Since the Champaign-Urbana (PFLAG) chapter dissolved, there is nothing between Bloomington and Carbondale, so we cover a broad area.”
They established a local PFLAG chapter in 2015, and the support group has been meeting every third Thursday of every month at the Charleston Carnegie Public Library, helping LGBTQ people from the area ever since, she said.
The acronym “PFLAG” does not actually stand for anything now, Looby said. It used to stand for “Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays,” but PFLAG officials realized that the name of the support group needed to reflect that everyone on the queer spectrum was also welcome.
However, the name “PFLAG” stuck, so that is what it is known as in Charleston, she said.
In addition to educating the community and advocating LGBTQ rights, the Charleston PFLAG chapter also offers some financial support for people on the queer spectrum.
She said the support group has a monetary amount set aside specifically for financial support. She said Charleston’s PFLAG aims to give this money to Eastern students or high school students because they tend to be particularly vulnerable financially.
For many young adults who come out to their parents or families, they face the grim possibility of being ostracized or kicked out of their homes entirely, she said. This is where LGBTQ youth find themselves in significant financial dilemmas.
Looby said LGBTQ people also still do not have equal rights in the U.S., although Illinois is a progressive state in that regard.
She said in Illinois, trans individuals can now legally have their gender markers on their licenses to reflect their gender identities by submitting a declaration of gender change provider form to the Department of Public Health’s division of vital records.
According to the official form, as long as it has been signed by a licensed health care professional who has indicated whether the individual has an intersex condition or has undergone proper clinical treatment for gender transition, they can legally get their gender markers changed.
Looby said it was not always as simple as that.
“Before, to do that, they had to have had surgery; they had to have proof of that, and there were several other things that it was just nearly impossible for a lot of people,” she said. “Not every trans person wants to have that surgery. That’s a totally personal thing.”
The Illinois House of Representatives also passed a bill that would amend the Illinois school code to introduce textbooks including prominent LGBTQ figures and events of the past in March of this year. It is still awaiting the Senate’s consideration.
The bill says the textbooks “must accurately portray the diversity of our society, including the role and contributions of people protected under the Illinois Human Rights Act.”
Looby said this bill is another step in the right direction for Illinois’ LGBTQ people, but members of the community in other states are not as fortunate.
She said LGBTQ people still face discrimination around the U.S., noting that many bakeries are still refusing to serve wedding cakes to couples on the queer spectrum and facing lawsuits as a result.
Additionally, 26 states in the U.S. have no explicit prohibitions against employment discrimination on the basis on sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project.
Looby said this means in just over half of the country, LGBTQ people can still be fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientations and/or gender identities. This is another reason support groups like PFLAG are needed not just in Charleston, but all over the U.S. she said.
For those in Charleston who would like to help the LGBTQ community, “speaking up” is an important step.
“If (people) hear or see something happening, if they hear offensive language, speak up. It doesn’t have to be confrontational, but say, ‘hey, that’s not acceptable,'” she said. “If (people) see somebody being targeted or bullied, say something.”
She said people can also contact school administrators and school boards if they see children getting unfairly treated or targeted in the school districts. They can also write to members of the Congress and Senators in hopes of any legislative change.
Looby said pride especially is important because LGBTQ people deserve to feel proud about who they are; they also deserve to be celebrated by others.
“We all need to celebrate it because LGBTQ people have had such struggles, (and they) still struggle to get what the rest of the world has,” she said.
PFLAG in Charleston is hosting an open LGBTQ History Trivia at the Rotary Room of the Carnegie Public Library during its meeting Thursday. The trivia will take place during the usual meeting time from 6 p.m. until 7:30 p.m.
PFLAG meets every third Thursday at the library, which is located at 712 Sixth St.
Logan Raschke can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected]