Group for families of gays to start meeting

Posted: Monday, August 20, 2001

For those unfamiliar with it, the acronym PFLAG might bring to mind images of football or Fourth of July parades. People who have encountered PFLAG might think of support instead.

PFLAG stands for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. It is a national organization that focuses on support, information and education.

A local chapter of the organization will have its first meeting Tuesday. Regular meetings will follow on the third Tuesday of each month.

"We think that education and letting people know that there are gays and lesbians in the community is important," said Joan Merrick, registered agent for the area chapter.

While gays and lesbians are welcome to participate in meetings, the main goal of the group is to help those who have a gay or lesbian family member or friend.

"Maybe parents who are uncomfortable with (having a gay son or daughter), they could come and talk about it," Merrick said.

For now, the group will offer information and support. Discussions will include national issues, local issues and ways to educate the public about the gay population.

Problems faced by gays, including discrimination and violent attacks, also will be approached with an interest in solutions.

Later this month, PFLAG will offer telephone training for those interested in answering a hot line to help others in the community.

While there is no official count of the number of gays and lesbians who live in the Kenai-Soldotna area, the national average is between 5 to 10 percent of the population.

A large number of young people move away due to lack of support, Merrick said.

"They feel like they can't be themselves," she said.

She said she believes most of the gays and lesbians in the community are either high school age and not ready to move, or middle-aged and comfortable with their lifestyle.

By educating the community and providing support for families, the group hopes to make the peninsula a place people can stay regardless of sexual preference, Merrick said.

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