I Am Collingswood: Linda Murphy
Linda Murphy's daughter came out as a lesbian on Father's Day in 2004. Six years later, Murphy became president of Collingswood PFLAG, and still supports LGBT youth.
Yes, Virginia, an activist can be polite. The mild manners of Minnesota mom Linda Murphy belie a steely conviction that has inspired her work as president of Collingswood PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). This week, she tells Patch about her personal connection to the LGBT community.
Collingswood Patch: Tell me about what PFLAG seeks to accomplish.
Murphy: PFLAG is a national organization. Our mission is to provide education, support, and advocacy. Each chapter may be a little bit different as far as what they specialize in.
I would say the PFLAG Collingswood chapter, just by the nature of who comes on a monthly basis and the membership, we're really there for support. My personal goal is to increase the availability for LGBT youth activities in South Jersey. That's something that we really are sadly lacking.
At this point, I am really trying to get a nice, core group of people involved in looking at how we can support our youth a little bit better, to give them more opportunities to socialize. We feel like this really needs to be a youth-run group, not adult-run.
Patch: What do you think is the most important issue in the LGBTQ community today?
Murphy: I would think that the top of the list for the LGBT community as a whole would be DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act). I know that's something that's in the forefront a lot in the news.
My daughter is 26, and she's in a committed relationship, and in the next three to four years, she would definitely be interested in getting married. She lives in California, it was legal to be married there at one point, but now with Prop 8, it's kind of on a freeze.
In South Jersey, we just need something for the kids for them to feel safe. That's really, really important. I get phone calls from parents all the time, “Are there places my kids can go? Our high school doesn't have a GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance),” or “My child goes to a Catholic school.”
I think LGBT teens are the most isolated group there is sometimes. It's hard to for them to find friends sometimes, and that just makes such a huge difference in the rest of their lives.
Patch: Have you ever received negative reactions from people when you tell them about your involvement with PFLAG?
Murphy: I had a very unusual situation with my best friend...her response to me was, “Well, you're not gonna pay for her college, are you?”
That was the first thing she said! And my daughter was going off to a wonderful college, William and Mary, in Virginia. The thought had never even occurred to me! Why would someone not pay for their child's college?
Like it was, rebellious, deviant behavior; she saw it as someone doing something very destructive and very socially unacceptable. So, it was an uneducated view.
She thought, “Well, if you're going to live your life this way, you're going to have to figure things out on your own.” Sadly, there are probably a lot of people out there who wouldn't think that was so unusual and she's not like that anymore.
Patch: You maintained your friendship with this person?
Murphy: Oh yes, and she and I went on vacation and visited my daughter. We actually all stayed together for a weekend, and my friend was very comfortable. I think she just needed to think about it for a while. It was sort of a from the hip comment. She's a wonderful person.
Whenever I hear someone say something negative, I kind of chalk it up to the fact that they're just totally uneducated about it. They don't know, they have no experience.
One of my very close friends in Minnesota had been posting some very negative things on her Facebook and I thought, “You know? She just doesn't understand.” So I started talking to her and just trying to give her some information. I knew she didn't know about my daughter. I thought, well, when she hears...
We went back and forth for quite a while and it got so nasty. She got very Biblical, and once she started going down that road I just couldn't finish the conversation. So, I will definitely lose touch with her. That's a friendship that I just can't maintain; very different from my other friend who was willing to learn and listen and accept.
Patch: How can Collingswood citizens support PFLAG?
Murphy: We will always take financial contributions. Donations are always great. We don't need a lot of money to run our chapter, but we do use it for really, really good things.
If anybody is interested in coming to the support group meetings and just getting involved in being supportive to the people that are there, we do have about a 50/50 group. Half the people that come are usually parents of LGBT kids that are looking to give support or get support, and the other half are LGBT adults or kids or are coming to try to show support.
We also have a minister that will come and address issues for people having trouble reconciling their faith. He himself is gay.
If anybody wants to come and try to get involved in any of the media outreach we're trying to do, that does take a lot of my time. If anybody's interested in supporting us with regard to bringing speakers to us, they can let us know.
Patch: What is your best advice for young people who are conflicted about coming out to their families?
Murphy: There are certain days to avoid. My daughter came out to us on Father's Day. I don't think that's really the best time (laughs). I would say avoid Mother's Day, Father's Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving, those types of things.
I think, also, that it's important, with your parents, that you are very firm about who you are. I think a lot of times, you may not even be that sure. As a kid, you're experiencing things and you may be questioning things, or you may be confused or still working things out. If you have that attitude with your parents, I think it's a lot easier for parents to stay in denial and to question whether or not you really know what you're talking about.
So, I think when you're coming out to your parents it's important that you put to them as, “I know I am gay,” rather than, “I think I may be bisexual.” A lot of kids soft-pedal it, I think! You may be bisexual, you may know you're bisexual. But if you tell your parents you're gay and you're in a relationship with a partner of the same sex, I think your parents will by more likely to start their journey of working everything out, rather than staying where they are and saying, “My kid's just confused.”
Also, don't keep secrets, in an attempt to shield the parents from the situation. Parents get hurt when kids pull away and then they can become distrustful. The more open to stupid questions you are, the better. But parents have to give their children the respect to let them figure out who they are on their own and they have to support them no matter what.
Kids should not be afraid to write a letter to their parents. Coming out on paper does two things: Gives the parent(s) time to think about their response. And protects the child from the potentially disappointed/disgusted look on their face, which is very hurtful.
It's also very important for children to tell the parents that they understand it may be hard or upsetting at first. Allow them time, sometimes years, to figure it all out. Bad initial responses can turn to good situations, if both child and parent are respectful of each other. Offer literature and resources to the parents. Tell them that you'll be patient with them.
Collingswood PFLAG will host David Rosenblum, Legal Director from the Mazzoni Center, and Rebecca Levin, attorney with Jerner and Palmer, at the Collingswood Library on Jan. 28, 6:30-9 p.m. For more info, contact Linda Murphy at PFLAGCollingswood@yahoo.com.