When Carolyn Cutrona, chair of the psychology department at Iowa State, found out that her eighth-grade daughter was a lesbian back in 1997, her first reaction was fear for her daughter’s safety.
Cutrona is the founder of the Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) chapter in Ames.
“I wanted to support other parents who were going through the discovery that their son or daughter was gay or lesbian,” Cutrona said.
Back when she started, she said, the atmosphere was not as accepting as it is now and she wanted to make the community safer for her daughter.
“PFLAG promotes the health and well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons, their families and friends, through the three-fold approach of support, education and advocacy,” said Cyndie Drury, current PFLAG chapter president.
According to the PFLAG website, the organization has the following goal: "Only with respect, dignity and equality for all will we reach our full potential as human beings, individually and collectively."
Cutrona said PFLAG worked to add sexual identity and gender identity to the anti-harassment policy at Ames High School at the same time her daughter was starting the first Gay Straight Alliance in Iowa at Ames High.
“We met with the school board back when my daughter was in high school and lobbied pretty enthusiastically, pretty assertively to add sexual orientation and gender identity to their policy, and we succeeded,” Cutrona said.
PFLAG hosted a table at the Iowa Pride Conference this year to show their support and be able to provide resources to students there.
“We’re basically a place that anybody can come to find support, to get educated, to be involved in equality here in Ames,” Drury said.
Drury explained the PFLAG website has resources for students having trouble coming out to their parents, students looking to figure out their sexual orientation or gender identity and other resources, saying it is really a great website.
“We’ve seen parents go from being just dismayed, and crying and hopeless to being active community advocates for their kids, it’s pretty remarkable,” Cutrona said.
PFLAG has monthly meetings, which are open to everybody, on the second Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. at Youth and Shelter Services in downtown Ames.
At the meetings, members give encouragement and support to one another and share their stories. PFLAG also provides some sort of program for education at each meeting.
“We’ve had speakers such as Zach Wahls, Donna Redwing, CEO of One Iowa and others,” Drury said. They have also shown educational films on LGBT subjects.
“We would go and we would walk, we would participate in the Des Moines Pride Parade every year and carry signs that say ‘We love our gay children’ that kind of thing, we always got a lot of cheers,” Cutrona said.
PFLAG also hosts tables at events such as the Iowa Pride Conference and the annual FACES celebration in Ames.
Drury works in the healthcare field for a family physician in Nevada. As LGBT patients came in she heard stories about the personal treatment they were receiving, Drury said she realized, “They are marginalized in the medical community.”
“I always wanted to be involved in a meaningful way doing something that was going to change the world in a meaningful way and help people,” Drury said.
She felt there had to be a community where she could help the community she saw being treated poorly.
Drury figured PFLAG would be a good place to start.
She found the Ames chapter on google and attended the next meeting. Drury was astonished to find the huge and very active LGBT community in Ames that she said is doing great work.
Drury said PFLAG has young and old lesbian, gay and transgender people, parents, grandparents and siblings. According to the PFLAG website, they are the original ally organization.
“It’s very exciting to me to be the president of the Ames chapter PFLAG because I am extremely passionate about LGBT issues,” Drury said.