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PFLAG Newberg organization provides education and support in the community and beyond

SUBMITTED PHOTO - The Newberg chapter of PFLAG marched in the Portland Pride Parade last weekend and are getting involved at a local level as well, providing a $500 scholarship to a graduating senior from Newberg High School.

In 1972, a woman named Jeanne Manford marched in an early version of the New York City Pride Parade with her openly gay son, Morty. After being approached by young gay and lesbian people who asked her to talk to their parents, she started a support group called PFLAG.

Since that time, the nonprofit organization has expanded to a national level, with chapters popping up throughout the country as a resource for people in the LGBTQ community and their families. It's also a place for allies to provide their support and educate themselves on the issues facing LGBTQ people.

Last fall, a Newberg chapter of the organization started up thanks to a small group of LGBTQ people and their allies in the community. Rebecca Swindle is a board member for the organization and said it continues to grow.

"This is a very new chapter," she said. "We officially had our first meeting in October and it was started by a small group of us who noticed a need for families, allies and advocates in the community, as well as for LGBT folks, to get together and feel supported."

PFLAG Newberg meets at 7 p.m. on the second Tuesday of every month at Springbrook Education Center, the home of Newberg Catalyst High School.

The first half of the meetings typically includes a presentation that is often someone from in or outside the Newberg community sharing their personal story. It also features an educational piece for allies and LGBTQ identifiers alike to learn proper terms, how to become advocates and other ways of getting involved.

During the second half, those who choose to stick around can participate in a support circle with others in attendance.

"This is a very private time," Swindle said. "No cell phones are allowed and discussions are held within that circle where people can ask questions, share their story and talk about their experience. We just really want our LGBTQ kids and adults to feel that this is a safe and welcoming space for them."

PFLAG's national organization provided the financial support for Newberg's chapter to get started, but they have been fundraising in the community as well. Founding members, including elected president Josh Reed, had to file for a nonprofit designation and get the business side of things set up, which took a few months.

But once the meetings got going, Swindle said they found a strong desire in the community for a group like PFLAG. Outside of big cities, she said, it can be hard for LGBTQ people to feel a sense of community.

"What we really felt in recent years was that we didn't have a community for LGBTQ youth and adults to turn to here," Swindle said. "A lot of rural communities face the same challenge and it's not necessarily that people don't want to support – they just might not have been exposed to a wide variety of people or they may not know that LGBTQ people are in their communities."

PFLAG hopes to serve all of Yamhill County with its Newberg chapter, and the group marched in the Portland Pride Parade over the weekend. They are getting involved in the community on a local level as well, providing a $500 scholarship to a graduating senior from Newberg High School this year.

Swindle said PFLAG is also working with the Newberg School District on professional development opportunities.

"We will offer training for teachers and staff members to learn about inclusion and safety within their classrooms," Swindle said. "That includes language, curriculum and how to be an advocate and ally for students. This is a great need for our LGBTQ students who often suffer high rates of victimization."

Graduating senior Lily Green received this year's scholarship from PFLAG Newberg, which Swindle said will be meted to a student who is either a self-identifying member of the LGBTQ community or is an active ally.

Swindle said it is crucial for people in Newberg and Yamhill County – especially young people – to have a resource they can go to for support, education or advocacy. It also provides an opportunity, she said, for people to educate themselves on the issues that affect LGBTQ people.

"Whether people know it or not, there are LGBTQ people here," Swindle said, "kids, adults, families, aunts, uncles, grandparents, loved ones. They are very important, integral parts of our community. They work in our offices and in any sort of career you think of, they walk the halls of our schools, and they deserve our support."

Those interested in donating to the group or signing up for a membership can visit the PFLAG Newberg chapter's website at www.pflagnewberg.org. You don't have to be a member to attend meetings, which are open to anyone. The next meeting is 7p.m. July 9 at the Springbrook Education Center on Deborah Road.


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