Obama awards medal to late Flushing activist

The late Flushing native Jeanne Manford (second from l.) received the Presidential Citizens Medal for founding PFLAG. Photo courtesy PFLAG National
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At a time when homosexuality was considered a crime and a mental illness, Flushing native Jeanne Manford’s message of love for her gay son grew into one of the biggest LGBT-advocacy groups in the country.

Manford, who died Jan. 8 at the age of 92, posthumously received the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal Friday for founding PFLAG, an activist group made up primarily of straight family members and allies of LGBT people, from President Barack Obama.

“I could think of no person more deserving of this honor than my friend, Jeanne Manford,” said City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) in a statement.

Obama presented the award to Manford’s daughter, Suzanne Swan, Friday. She was one of 18 to receive the award this year.

“For insisting that equality knows no bounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, the United States honors Jeanne Manford,” he said.

Manford’s activism started after her gay son, Morty, was assaulted while handing out fliers in Manhattan in 1972. She wrote to the New York Post decrying the NYPD’s refusal to take the assault seriously, saying “my son is a homosexual, and I love him.”

“No matter who her son was — no matter who he loved — she loved him and wouldn’t put up with this kind of nonsense,” Obama said. “And in that simple act, she inspired a movement and gave rise to a national organization that has given so much support to parents and families and friends and helped to change this country.”

Morty Manford, who had previously witnessed the Stonewall raid, had been an activist before the attack. He worked as a state assistant attorney general before his death from AIDS in 1992.

Jeanne Manford marched with her son in the 1972 New York City Gay Pride Parade. The gay and lesbian people who requested that she talk to their own parents inspired her to create a support group. Similar support groups for parents of gay and lesbian children became PFLAG in the 1980s, which opened its first office in 1981 in Los Angeles before moving its headquarters to Denver in 1987. Today, it has about 200,000 members and affiliates in 350 neighborhoods.

Before moving away from the city, eventually to settle in Daly City, Calif., Jeanne Manford was also known for her activism at home. She founded the Queens chapter of PFLAG with Dromm and was grand marshal at one of the first Queens Pride Parades.

“I thank President Obama for acknowledging and honoring the vitally important role Jeanne Manford played in the history of the LGBT civil rights movement,” Dromm said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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