Jeanne Manford

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Jeanne Sobelson Manford
Born(1920-12-04)December 4, 1920
DiedJanuary 8, 2013(2013-01-08) (aged 92)
Known forco-founder of PFLAG

Jeanne Sobelson Manford (December 4, 1920 – January 8, 2013) was an American schoolteacher and activist. She co-founded the support group organization, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), for which she was awarded the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal.


Born Jean Sobelson in Flushing, Queens in 1920, the third of five daughters of Sadie, a housewife, and Charles Sobelson, a salesman, she studied for a short time in Alabama before stopping her studies to return home after her father's death. She married Jules Manford, had three children (Charles, Morty and Suzanne) and returned to college in her 30s, earning her bachelor's degree from Queens College and joining the faculty of PS 32 in Queens in 1964.[1] She lived in New York until 1996 when she moved to Minnesota to care for her great-grandchild while her granddaughter attended medical school. She then went on to live with her daughter in California.[2]

Founding of PFLAG[edit]

I have a homosexual son and I love him.

— Jeanne Manford, Letter to the Editor, New York Post, April 29, 1972[3]

In April 1972, Manford and her husband Jules were at home in Flushing, Queens, when they learned from a hospital's telephone call that her son Morty, a gay activist, had been beaten while distributing flyers inside the fiftieth annual Inner Circle dinner, a political gathering in New York City.[4] Reports stated that Morty was "kicked and stomped" while being led away by police.[5] In response, she wrote a letter of protest to the New York Post that identified herself as the mother of a gay protester and complained of police inaction.[6] She gave interviews to radio and television shows in several cities in the weeks that followed, always accompanied by her husband or son.[7]

On June 25, she participated with her son in the New York Pride March, carrying a hand-lettered sign that read "Parents of Gays Unite in Support for Our Children".[8] At the time, homosexuality was still considered a mental illness and sodomy a crime, and California Senator Mark Leno has subsequently reflected that "[f]or her to step into the street to declare support for her mentally ill, outlaw son - that was no small act ... But it was what a mother's love does."[2] Manford recalled in a 1996 interview the cheers she received in the parade, and that the "young people were hugging me, kissing me, screaming, asking if I would talk to their parents ... [as] few of them were out to their parents for fear of rejection."[1] Prompted by this enthusiastic reception, Manford and her husband developed an idea for an organization of the parents of gays and lesbians that could be, she later said, "a bridge between the gay community and the heterosexual community".[9] They were soon holding meetings for such parents, with her husband participating as well. She called him "a very articulate person ... a much better speaker than I. He was right along with me on everything."[10] The first meeting of the group—then called Parents of Gays—was attended by about 20 people,[11] and was held at the Metropolitan-Duane Methodist Church, now the Church of the Village.

Morty's attacker went on to testify for gay rights on behalf of teamsters' union president Barry Feinstein more than a decade later, and formed a cordial relationship with Morty, regularly joining him for coffee and pastry.[5]

Later life[edit]

President Obama speaking at the 2009 Human Rights Campaign dinner

In June 1991, Manford was grand marshal of New York City's Gay Pride March.[12] In 1993, she was the grand marshal of the first pride parade in Queens and organized a local chapter of PFLAG in Astoria.[13] After teaching at Flushing's PS 32 for 26 years,[14] Manford retired in 1990 at 70 years of age. Her son Morty, who became an assistant New York State attorney general, died of AIDS at age 41 in 1992, while her son Charles had died in 1966 and her husband Jules had died in 1982. She relocated to Rochester, Minnesota, in 1996 to be near her family.[15] In October 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama recounted Manford's founding of PFLAG in a televised speech before the annual Human Rights Campaign dinner.[16]

Jeanne Manford died at home in Daly City, California on January 8, 2013, aged 92.[2] A collection of Manford's papers is archived at the New York Public Library.[17] James Martin, Catholic Jesuit priest and editor of America, paid tribute to her: "No matter what you think about the hot-button issue of same-sex marriage, no matter what religion you are, no matter what political party you favor, I hope that you say a prayer for Mrs. Manford. For she loved prophetically."[18]


In June 1991, Manford was grand marshal of New York City's Gay Pride March.[12]

In 1993, she was the grand marshal of the first pride parade in Queens, New York.[13]

In February 2013, it was announced that President Barack Obama was to honor Manford posthumously with the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal,[19] the second highest civilian award given by the United States, for her work in co-founding PFLAG and ongoing years of LGBT advocacy.[20] She was one of 18 Americans selected to receive the award from more than 6000 nominations. It recognizes "exemplary deeds of service for their country and their fellow citizens," from more than 6000 nominations.[19] On February 15, 2013, Manford's daughter, Suzanne Manford Swan, accepted the award on her behalf at a White House ceremony at which Obama said: "These folks participate, they get involved, they have a point of view. They don't just wait for somebody else to do something, they go out there and do it, and they join and they become part of groups and they mobilize and they organize."[21] The President described the founding of PFLAG and continued: "This was back in 1972. There was a lot of hate, a lot of vitriol toward gays and lesbians and anyone who supported them. But instead, she wrote to the local newspaper and took to the streets with a simple message: No matter who her son was — no matter who he loved — she loved him, and wouldn't put up with this kind of nonsense." He said "that simple act" provided the impetus for a national organization "that has given so much support to parents and families and friends, and helped to change this country".[22]

On April 26, 2014, 171st Street between 33rd and 35th Avenues in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens, New York was named "Jeanne, Jules, Morty Manford PFLAG Way".[23][24]

On May 20, 2017, the US Post Office-Jackson Heights Station was dedicated to Jeanne and Jules Manford.[25]

In June 2019, Manford was one of the inaugural fifty American “pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes” inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument (SNM) in New York City’s Stonewall Inn.[26][27] The SNM is the first U.S. national monument dedicated to LGBTQ rights and history,[28] and the wall's unveiling was timed to take place during the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.[29]


  1. ^ a b Trounson, R. (January 10, 2013). "Jeanne Manford dies at 92; co-founder of group for parents of gays". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c Coté, J. (January 10, 2013). "Jeanne Manford, PFLAG founder, dies". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  3. ^ "Jeanne Manford Papers, 1972-1995" (PDF). New York Public Library.
  4. ^ Lambert, B. (May 15, 1992). "Morty Manford, 41, a Lawyer And Early Gay-Rights Advocate". New York Times. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  5. ^ a b Lii, J. H. (November 3, 1996). "Unlikely Supporter of Gay Rights Recalls Pivotal Night". New York Times. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  6. ^ Marcus, E. (2002). Making Gay History: The Half-Century Fight for Lesbian and Gay Equal Rights. New York: Harper Collins. pp. 170–71. ISBN 0060933917.
  7. ^ Marcus, Making Gay History, p. 172
  8. ^ Marcus, Making Gay History, p. 173
  9. ^ Marcus, Making Gay History, p. 175
  10. ^ Marcus, Making Gay History, pp. 174-5
  11. ^ "Plaque To Mark Greenwich Village Church As Site Of First PFLAG Meeting". CBS New York. April 8, 2013. Retrieved June 23, 2019.
  12. ^ a b Marcus, Making Gay History, p. 340
  13. ^ a b Marcus, Making Gay History, p. 354
  14. ^ Bernstein, R. A. (June 25, 2003). Straight Parents, Gay Children: Keeping Families Together. Da Capo Press. p. 51. ISBN 9781560254522. Retrieved September 4, 2012.
  15. ^ Lii, J. H. (November 3, 1996). "A Movement Misses Its Nurturing Mother". New York Times. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  16. ^ Sweet, L. (October 11, 2009). "Obama Human Rights Campaign speech on gay rights". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on December 14, 2012.
  17. ^ "Manford (Jeanne) Papers, 1972-1995: Table of Contents". New York Public Library. Retrieved September 4, 2012.
  18. ^ James Martin, SJ (January 9, 2013). "Evening meditation: "God is Love" (1 Jn 4: 7-10)". Facebook.
  19. ^ a b Coccaro, K. (February 8, 2013). "President Obama to Honor Recipients of the 2012 Citizens Medal". US Government (White House). Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  20. ^ Ring, T. (February 8, 2013). "Obama to Honor PFLAG Founder". The Advocate. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  21. ^ "Obama honors fallen educators who died protecting Newtown students with citizenship medals". Washington Post. February 15, 2013. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
  22. ^ Johnson, Chris (February 15, 2013). "Obama awards Citizens Medal to PFLAG founder". Washington Blade. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
  23. ^ "Street to be named after PFLAG founder | gay news | Jeanne Manford". April 24, 2014. Retrieved June 29, 2014.
  24. ^ Guerre, Liam La (April 27, 2014). "Northeast | Flushing gay rights activist honored with street co-naming". Queens Courier. Retrieved June 29, 2014.
  25. ^ Name (required). "Post Office Dedicated To Gay Rights Activists Who Formed PFLAG « CBS New York". Retrieved May 21, 2017.
  26. ^ Glasses-Baker, Becca (June 27, 2019). "National LGBTQ Wall of Honor unveiled at Stonewall Inn". Retrieved June 28, 2019.
  27. ^ SDGLN, Timothy Rawles-Community Editor for (June 19, 2019). "National LGBTQ Wall of Honor to be unveiled at historic Stonewall Inn". San Diego Gay and Lesbian News. Retrieved June 21, 2019.
  28. ^ "Groups seek names for Stonewall 50 honor wall". The Bay Area Reporter / B.A.R. Inc. Retrieved May 24, 2019.
  29. ^ "Stonewall 50". San Francisco Bay Times. April 3, 2019. Retrieved May 25, 2019.