LGBTQ support group forming in Brookings

New chapter one of two in South Dakota

Editor's note: This article has been edited to report that the PFLAG chapter met last weekend at Ascension Lutheran Church.

BROOKINGS – Support; education; advocacy. 

Those are the watchwords of a PFLAG – Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays – local chapter forming in Brookings.

There is presently one other chapter in the state, at Spearfish. A chapter had been formed in Sioux Falls, but it no longer meets.

The Brookings chapter met Saturday morning at Ascension Lutheran Church to continue work on its bylaws, in preparation for a kickoff event at the Brookings Public Library at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 28.

Committee members present were the Rev. Teri Johnson, president and chair; Trevor Clements, vice president; Sandy Olson, secretary; Lawrence Novotny, treasurer; the Rev. Larry Ort, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church; and the Rev. Michael Mortvedt. A seventh member, Ruth Harper, was absent.

“We’re hoping to be a catalyst, a support group,” Johnson, pastor of United Church of Christ and a professor at South Dakota State University, said. “One of the critical pieces of PFLAG is that it’s not a political organization, not a religious organization. It’s a support group for families, allies and friends.

“Also it’s for education: educating ourselves, educating others, people who know souls from the LGBT community. Another piece is being an advocate, to change attitudes, even to be in the forefront of changing policies and laws.”

Mortvedt, senior pastor at Ascension Lutheran Church who came to Brookings from the Denver metropolitan area, said he had referred to PFLAG parents who came to him looking for guidance after finding out that they had gay or lesbian children.

“I can support you,” he told the parents. “I can support your children, their decisions; but for a really good peer support group, PFLAG would be the best resource I know of.”

Noting that it’s a difficult issue for parents to deal with, he cited a variety of reactions when they met with him, one example being: “I’ve always heard that this is bad. It’s a sin. But I love my kid. I’m really struggling with that. I want to love my child. But, I don’t know. This is so different for me. I’m in shock.”

The pastor added that for some parents it’s not an issue. They take a simple, non-judgemental approach that says to their child, “I love you.”

 Others have said, “You’re no longer my son; you’re no longer my daughter.”

Johnson and her husband Marty have five children; one son is gay. Of their children’s sexuality, she said simply, “It’s never been an issue for me. It’s who they are.” And for the Johnson children, it’s not an issue.

She had considered joining the PFLAG chapter in Sioux Falls, but it dissolved. But she added she wasn’t looking to join because she was “this shocked mother, wounded.” She wasn’t.

Johnson said other parents with gay children have come to her as a pastor with questions such as: “Can God forgive this?”

 “Everybody’s got a story,” she said. “Every life’s a story. So I always think it’s just good to come together as community, as allies and friends.” PFLAG would be a coming together where those stories could be told and listened to.

Johnson said one of her concerns as a parent when she was  “seeking out a PFLAG … was a fear in my heart for the discrimination I was afraid my child was going to face … and being hurt by meanness.”

 

Generational issue

When it comes to attitudes about the LGBTQ community, generation seems to be a key factor.

“I think we’re mainly here for our generation as people who want to ask questions,” Olson, a deacon at Ascension Lutheran and wife of Mortvedt, said. “But in general the next generation doesn’t have that issue.”

She added that her children and their friends “know who’s matching up, and it’s not a deal they really even talk about.

“What we’re hoping is that the future holds the openness and the broad spectrum that we know God has for all of us.”

Novotny, a retired South Dakota State University chemist who serves on the city’s Human Rights Commission and works with LGBTQ issues, also sees it as a generational issue.

“Of course, when I came out in the ’70s, it was a very hush, hush thing,” he aid. “We kept it quiet. But now up on campus, it’s no big deal with most of the students – at all.

“Of course what makes it a generational issue is not the young kids. It’s their parents dealing with it. Some of them are accepting of it; others are caught up with their beliefs and brought up troubled with that.”

He did note that today “the young kids have their own support networks they’re part of.”

 

Brookings: caring and inclusive

There was a consensus among the chapter members that Brookings is a caring and inclusive community.

“We’re very lucky to have Brookings. Brookings is an incredible, incredible community,” Clements, assistant manager at Pheasant Restaurant & Lounge, said. “I don’t think me being a gay man raising two children would have the support network in another community.

“My daughter’s baby shower. We had people calling, asking if they could come. I knew that people supported me and Michael (his partner), but I didn’t know that they supported us having a family,” Clements said.

“I think PFLAG in this community can kind of help to weave the network for those with questions and that aren’t fortunate enough to have the support system our family has had.”

Since PFLAG is a national organization, the Brookings chapter is building its bylaws on a skeletal set provided by that organization. But the Brookings chapter will take its own local approach to bylaws, which are still being drafted.

Key elements of the Brookings chapter’s “purpose and scope” include “support(ing) the mission of the PFLAG national organization which is to promote the health and well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people, their families and friends through: (1) support, to cope with an adverse society; (2) education, to enlighten an ill-informed public; and (3) advocacy, to end discrimination and to secure equal civil rights.”

The chapter members say a best-case scenario coming out of Brookings PFLAG would be community involvement, interest and need; educational experiences; and a safe place to voice concerns, fears, and joys of family, friends and siblings.

Johnson said she wanted to ensure that people know PFLAG also has the transgender community under its umbrella.

 

Contact John Kubal at [email protected].