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Finding friends and advocacy

Sue G. Collins: The PFLAG Chapter Network--with over 400 chapters across the country--provides confidential peer support, education, and advocacy to LGBTQ+ people, their parents and families, and allies. Tell us about the founding of the Johns Creek chapter.

Laura McGinnis, PFLAG National: We were founded in 2012 (as Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)  in response to concerns from the community for LGBTQ+ resources. Our founders, members of Johns Creek United Methodist Church, were originally part of the PFLAG Atlanta chapter and were instrumental in establishing our presence in north metro Atlanta. Our reach has grown beyond Johns Creek to include people/families from surrounding Forsyth, Gwinnett, Hall, Dawson counties and more. Prior to Covid-19, our support groups met on the 3rd Tuesday of each month at Johns Creek UMC but we have transitioned these to virtual meetings.

SGC: Advocacy is a big part of the mission of PFLAG, with members and supporters working to achieve LGBTQ+ equality through changing hearts, minds, and laws. At the community level, you work to effect change so that people who are LGBTQ+ are safe and equal in their communities. Tell us about some of the projects and strides in the community of  Johns Creek.

LM: We are the first chapter in Georgia to offer support groups for LGBTQ+ teens and teen allies. We also host monthly teen social events that allow LGBTQ+ teens and teen allies to have an outlet with affirming peers and adult chaperones. We serve as guest speakers at school administrator/faculty events and corporate/business events. We were very happy to work with the Johns Creek City Council who in February 2020 adopted an LGBTQ+ inclusive hate crimes ordinance. In 2020 we initiated a campaign where our families wrote letters to their legislators to tell their stories and urge them to vote against a proposed ban on transgender medical care being considered in the State House that thankfully never made it to committee. The 2021 legislative session may bring additional proposals harmful to LGBTQ+ persons - especially transgender youth. But PFLAG Johns Creek will be there, advocating and speaking out for equality at the local and state levels.

SGC:   For the 9 out of 10 LGBTQ students who experience some form of mistreatment in school, education can be a frightening experience. It’s incumbent upon parents, families, friends, and allies to make schools safer for ALL students.  Can you share an example of the way schools are safer now and how kids can find support for themselves and friends?

LM: We work with school administrators/faculty/counselors to make them aware of who we are and the resources we have available. But for many LGBTQ+ kids there continues to be a lack of safety in schools and it can be frightening, if not dangerous due to bullying. With remote learning environments, such as what we are experiencing during Covid-19, some kids are safer at home and can perform better academically. However, this is not always the case due to households with non-affirming parents/guardians/siblings. We target these situations through our support groups and educational resources available at PFLAG.org/publications. Our teen support groups/social events provide a peer network. And our trained adult volunteers provide additional support and know the issues or concerns to watch for. The targeting of transgender youth and school-aged LGBTQ+ kids by continued discriminatory legislation brings much anxiety for our kids and their families. Our goal is to calm some of those fears and worries with our youth programming.

SGC: In 2015, PFLAG National launched PFLAG Gives Back as an integral part of our biennial convention and the program has only grown since then. Tell us about the give back here in Johns Creek.

LM: We are proud of our Helping Hands program. It provides local LGBTQ+ persons/families with financial assistance for living expenses, medical care, and mental health care. We are thankful to our donors and members who make this necessary program possible because there are many gaps in our systems. Covid-19 has resulted in individuals and families requiring assistance with rent/mortgage. Health insurance coverage through employer sponsored plans or under the Affordable Care Act only cover some healthcare expenses, specifically for transgender persons.

SGC:  Tell us about your local leadership, boots on the ground.

LM: We are pleased to have strong local leadership. Ann Miller serves as the Regional Director for PFLAG’s Gulf Region, of which PFLAG Johns Creek is part of. Ann was recently elected to her new position after previously serving as our local President for six years. Maggie Kottke is our new President and has been a chapter member for 3 years. Kristi Ashley is our Treasurer and has been a chapter member for 5 years. David Bates is our new Secretary and has been a member for 6 years. Angela Soldavini is an At-Large Board Member and has been a member for 5 years. Kevin Crumsey just joined us at the beginning of November 2020 as an At-Large Board Member.

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