Thirty years ago, few people were using the term ‘transgender.’
Lisa Salazar – a transgender woman living in South Surrey – first heard the word in 1990 when she was 40 years old.
“It was the first time I had a term and a description that actually resonated with me, my history and even how I felt as a child.”
Salazar made her transition in 2007 when she was 57.
A few years later she attended her first PFLAG Vancouver meeting.
PFLAG – formerly known as Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays – started 35 years ago in response to parents who had concerns with their child coming out as gay, bisexual or lesbian.
The organization is expanding south of the Fraser River. It will host meetings every second Wednesday of the month at Sunnyside United Church (15639 24 Ave.) from 7 to 9 p.m.
For many, it’s one of the first contacts parents make outside of their immediate family when a child comes out as gay, bisexual, lesbian or transgender.
The majority of parents visiting PFLAG Vancouver are of transgender children, Salazar said.
GLAAD – a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender media-advocacy organization – contracted a study in 2008 that revealed eight per cent of Americans know someone who is transgender.
The Human Rights Campaign revisited the study one year after U.S. Olympian Bruce Jenner publicly made the transition to Caitlyn Jenner. After Jenner’s transition in 2015, the study showed 35 per cent of Americans know or work with a transgender person.
“I think that’s thanks to Caitlyn Jenner,” Salazar said.
“What needs to be understood is that (it) just means people now know someone who is transgender. That knowledge does not translate into acceptance.”
Salazar said there’s an underserved segment of the population south of the Fraser River that want PFLAG meetings more locally.
“That is what I hear from parents,” she said.
One parent that expressed a need for PFLAG in the South Surrey community was Rev. Bruce McAndless-Davis, a minister at First United Church.
McAndless-Davis has been working with PFLAG to facilitate Sunnyside United Church as a rent-free meeting place.
“Lots of people, children and grandchildren are coming out. Whether they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans. I have a teenager who’s trans, and it’s a steep learning curve to learn how to create a safe space for them but also just to be aware of ourselves as parents. To have a group like that that gathers to support us would be great,” McAndless-Davis noted.
McAndless-Davis said all three Peninsula United Churches have been working together since the spring to create a “third-space.”
The churches are currently searching for a suitable storefront property to lease as a gathering place for community groups, such as PFLAG.
McAndless-Davis said that PFLAG is a good first-step for the third-space initiative.
“I think all of us are becoming more aware of different ways in which we can be more inclusive in our communities. That doesn’t come naturally or easily. We need to help each other get educated and support each other emotionally. Absolutely it will definitely meet a need and we hope it helps make a more inclusive and generous community overall,” McAndless-Davis said.
Salazar said the meetings are held with strict confidentiality guidelines and work as a peer-to-peer support group.
She says the meetings have helped families get over the “taboo” factor.
“For many families, it’s what will our neighbours think? What will our relatives think? What will my co-workers think? How do I explain this to them that I have a gay, lesbian or transgender child?”
More information on PFLAG can be found at pflagcanada.ca