Jeanne’s activism was spurred two months before she walked in the parade. Morty had been protesting a meeting of a homophobic parody group, and he was beaten by police officers who threw him down an escalator. When the police called Jeanne to tell her Morty had been arrested, the officer added, “And you know he’s a homosexual?” This question was meant to humiliate Morty and alienate him from his mother.
“Yes, I know,” Jeanne said. “Why are you bothering him?”
Morty was hospitalized for several days. Two months later, he asked his mother to march with him, and Jeanne responded that she’d march if she could carry a sign. Reflecting on her activism years later, Jeanne said she was driven to do something because, “I’ve always felt that Morty was a very special person. And I wasn’t going to let anybody walk over him.”
A parent's call to action
If coming out is an invitation for activism, David Holladay’s parents were there to answer the call.
“Fortunately for me, when David came out I was in a large law firm in Oklahoma CIty. I was a partner in that law firm, so I didn’t have to be silent if I chose not to,” Don Holladay, David’s father, said.
But there wasn’t a clear path to how to proceed. “It was a fairly lonely landscape,” Don said. “Our biggest ally was the library.” They would find out about PFLAG from a Dear Abby column.
The Holladays formed a local PFLAG chapter in Norman, Oklahoma, in 1994. David’s mother, Kay, went back to school for a master’s degree in public education, ran for the city council and became a PFLAG board member. Don has gone on to advocate on behalf of LGBTQ people in his state and was the lead attorney in the fight to legalize same-sex marriage in Oklahoma.
“You cannot love someone the way you love your children and listen to rock throwers who aren’t throwing at you, but they’re throwing at your child, and not do anything about it. That just doesn’t make sense,” Don said.
When Kay heads to pride marches, she always makes sure to bring her sign, a fitting evolution of the one Jeanne Manford proudly carried: “I love my gay son," it says, "...and his husband."
Jillian Eugenios is a writer and filmmaker in New York City.