The national organization PFLAG isn’t as prevalent in Southwest Virginia as local chapter president, Jim Best, would like for it to be. PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) is the largest organization in the US for people who are parents, families, friends or allies with people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. However, in Southwest Virginia, chapters of the organization are struggling to stay afloat without the support of the community.
This past year, the Blacksburg chapter of PFLAG was forced to shut down after many of the members were lost and funding decreased. Now, any members who still want to partake in the organization have to travel to Floyd, which has absorbed the members of this region.
The organization is one of the leading forces for LGBTQ citizens in the area, but Best said it is difficult to get the word out about the organization and the funding. In fact, most of the funding for different activities comes from Best’s own wallet. This past year Best helped to pay for a five-part film for this PFLAG chapter. The chapter runs fundraisers a few times a year, such as one in October called “Something queer this way comes,” but many of the events don’t raise the necessary amount of money.
The funds from the chapter go toward putting on events such as this one, or the Pride Parade that took place this past June. One of the most significant monetary values of the chapter is the $1000 scholarship they have been able to offer to students for the past two years. However, the scholarship funding is not secure and Best says that each year they have to just hope that donations will come in.
“Our projects have become more defined with time and this scholarship has allowed us for the last two years to be visible in the high school and to show a community interest in leadership,” Best said. “It has allowed contact with faculty advisors at the high school and to communicate with more diverse groups.”
The scholarship is based off of high school leadership for LGBTQ equality, but many of the applicants request not to have their name or photograph published if they should win. Many young students in the area are still afraid to come out to their community, said Best, and PFLAG tries to make them feel more comfortable and welcomed.
“It’s a matter of visibility and it’s a matter of comfort zone,” said Best. “And that hurts because it means that the kids are not free at home in their own community.”
The chapter also was able to donate over 25 books from the American Library Association Rainbow List, a list of books that adhere to LGBTQ communities, which Best said was a huge help to LGBTQ students who couldn’t find these types of books in the school library.
“Recently I spoke to a local shop owner who said to me ‘Oh, yes, I know about those books because I read them to my children,” Best said. “And she was thrilled to death that we were doing that. It may seem like a very minor contribution but we just have to take one step at a time.”