WASHINGTON – Mary Borhek flips through the pages of The New York Times Sunday Styles section every week,stopping at the photos of newlyweds. Every weekend she finds one,sometimes two,gay or lesbian couples who grace these pages.
Borhek,a retired 80-year-old living in Newtown,Pa.,can't help noticing these pictures because of her own struggle to accept her gay son. He came out in 1975,when few people were willing to accept homosexuality,let alone talk about it.
To Borhek,same-sex wedding photos are an indication that feelings toward gays and lesbians are better now.
“People accept the fact that this is a legitimate thing,” Borhek said. “You would never have found that back in the ‘70s.”
Greater availability of information and resources for both gay and straight people is responsible for more acceptance of the LGBT community,members of gay rights organizations say.
Jody M. Huckaby,executive director of Parents,Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays National,said new ways to communicate with the public,including the Internet,are partially responsible for the change in attitudes. The latest generation of parents uses these resources to understand gay issues and focus on how they can help as parents,Huckaby said.
“The kind of environment,where a gay character in TV or film is not the main focus but just part of the fabric of America,has allowed people to deal positively with this issue,” Huckaby said. “In years past,we don't have those examples.”
On Oct. 11,PFLAG announced a new project called Straight for Equality,which supports straight people without a personal connection to gay issues but who want to be involved. Because they have no need for emotional support,PFLAG has to address this group differently,Huckaby said.
The new Internet project provides information about how people can raise awareness of gay issues in ordinary situations. For example,straight people can take a pledge to speak up when witnessing discrimination. The Internet project provides anonymity to people who may be uncomfortable at first to seek information.
“It's about creating a non-political,non-controversial,virtual place to learn about the issues,” Huckaby said. “Then they can decide if they want to get more involved.”
Because the Straight for Equality project is located on a separate Web site from PFLAG's,Huckaby hopes more straight people will be comfortable visiting the Web site.
“We're not hiding the fact that we're PFLAG,” Huckaby said. “We welcome them,wherever they are in their involvement as a straight person. It's about getting more information out there.”
PFLAG began nationally in 1979 to provide information and support to parents of gays and lesbians. PFLAG's forerunners were local groups across the nation. Borhek relied on Families of Gays and Lesbians in Minneapolis for support and became active in the group in 1978.
PFLAG's focus has changed since the beginning,expanding to include families and friends of the LGBT community,as well as bisexuals and transgenders. The group also advocates for gay rights.
When her son came out in 1975,Borhek,who was very religious,viewed homosexuality as a sin and was determined to pray her son straight,an idea she chuckles at now.
She planned to write a book about how she turned her son away from homosexuality. Instead,her book,”My Son Eric,” details how she came to accept him.
“Little by little,I began to see what life as a gay person was like,and it wasn't at all the sex orgy and stuff like that,” Borhek said. “He and his partner went to work every day,they had to do their laundry,buy their food and cook it,like any young,married couple.”
“My Son Eric” was published in 1979,the same year as the first national march for gay and lesbian rights in Washington, which Borhek attended.
After the march,Borhek remembers attending the first meeting of all the local family chapters in Washington.
“I never realized,until I sat in that room and saw everybody had the same lack of power,just how difficult it was going to be to get the thing going,” Borhek said. “Eventually,they elected a head and that was the beginning. PFLAG has grown into a much bigger and powerful organization now.”
Borhek credits PFLAG with the greatest impact in changing the general attitude toward gays.
Because the Internet can provide education to those seeking it,most gay rights organizations rely on this tool,including a site for spouses of gays.
The Straight Spouse Network provides resources and support to spouses whose husbands or wives have come out.
“The Internet has made it easier for spouses of LGBT members to realize that they are not alone in struggle,” Amity Pierce Buxton,the network's,founder said. “Straight spouses know how to use the Internet to find help.”
The network gives straight spouses understanding of gay issues,which often leads to advocacy.
“LGBT foundations don't understand how straight spouses can be the best advocates,” Buxton said. “But the less we support straight spouses,they'll never reach out.”
Huckaby hopes for the same success with Straight for Equality.
“The people we're hoping to attract will not necessarily go to a PFLAG meeting or get involved in advocacy work,” Huckaby said. “If we can help them have real conversations about these issues,it will change hearts and minds and allow real change in communities.”