This weekend, a post office in Jackson Heights, Queens, was dedicated to a local couple who took a rare, early stance in support of the LGBT community.
After their son was brutally beaten during a gay rights demonstration in 1972, Jeanne Manford wrote an open letter to the New York Post, proclaiming her love for her gay son. She also railed against the police for their inaction and society for its condemnation of gay people.
“I am proud of my son, Morty Manford, and the hard work he has been doing in urging homosexuals to accept their feelings,” she wrote. “And not let the bigots and sick people take advantage of them in the ways they have done in the past and are continuing to do.”
In 1972, it was practically unheard for a parent to publicly acknowledge their gay child, let alone become an activist themselves. And Jeanne was no radical: she was a schoolteacher in Flushing, Queens, at a time when the American Psychiatric Association still classified homosexuality as a mental illness.
At an HRC dinner in 2009, President Obama talked about her receiving the call from the police telling her Morty had been arrested. “And then the officer added one more thing,” the president related. ” ’And you know he’s homosexual?’ Well, that police officer sure was surprised when Jeanne responded, ’Yes, I know. Why are you bothering him?’ ”
“The fact that a mother came out and recognized that her son was gay and that she loved him was big news among that community at that time,” her daughter, Suzanne Swan, told 1010 WINS at a special naming ceremony on Saturday.
The same year she sent the letter to the Post, Jeanne Manford joined Morty at the New York Pride March, carrying a sign that read “Parents of Gays Unite in Support for Our Children.”
“People were roaring and screaming,” Swan revealed. “She thought it was for Dr. Spock, who was walking directly behind her. Then, they came over, and they cried, and they kissed and hugged her. And they begged her to talk to their families.”
In 1973, Jeanne and Jules formed what is now know as Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG. They called it “a bridge between the gay community and the heterosexual community.” Today, PFLAG has more than 500 chapters nationwide.
Swan believes her late parents would be been proud to have a post office named after them.
“To have this recognition is just so unbelievable. They loved Queens, they lived here their whole lives,” she said. “I hope they’re looking down and know this is happening.”
“This is the type of history that we want people to know about,” said out councilman Daniel Dromm, who came up for the idea to honor the Manfords with Representative Joseph Crowley. Dromm knew Morty before his death from AIDS in 1992, and got to know Jeanne later.
The Jackson Heights neighborhood the post office is located in is home to vibrant LGBT community as well as Queens Pride, the second largest Pride parade in the city. In 2014, 171st Street between 33rd and 35th Avenues in Flushing was renamed “Jeanne, Jules and Morty Manford PFLAG Way.”
“What Jeanne Manford did was she put it in people’s heads that gay and lesbian people had parents,” Dan Savage told NPR in 2013, “That we were somebody’s children, and that was the first real big step in the movement toward full acceptance of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people.”