San Jose/Peninsula PFLAG Speakers Bureau (PSB)

Proof That Education is the Best Rx for Ignorance

Along with the monthly meetings, support line and various outreach programs, the PFLAG Speakers Bureau (PSB) is one of the most important outreach services offered by PFLAG. It is often one of the largest single groups of volunteers within a chapter and with sometimes several panels per week during the school semester, it is a very busy group of folks. Despite this, some folks have never sat on a panel. So what's it all about?

The PSB was founded on the principle that only education can overcome the prejudice and bigotry that is born of ignorance. Since schools are the institutions of education in this country, there existed an opportunity to educate students about the nature of sexual orientation in an attempt to overcome the stereotypes, misinformation and negative attitudes so prevalent in our society. While the help line and chapter meetings help people who are already having difficulty dealing with LGBT issues, the PSB is an attempt to "get ahead of the game" and help prevent the formation of negative attitudes towards LGBT people and their families in the first place.

Many people may think " don't know any gay people" but we know this is rarely the case: they've often met many LGBT people and simply didn't realize it. Because of society's repression of LGBT people, many LGBT people are not open about their sexuality. Thus, in the absence of personal experience with LGBT people, many people fall back on tired and false stereotypes, what they hear in the playground or see in the media. The PSB addresses this lack of knowledge by presenting students and adults with men and women who are open, honest, and willing to talk about their lives. This puts a face on the issue and presents it in real, human terms.

Panels begin with someone introducing PFLAG, its history and something about the local chapters, then each panelist tells his/her own story for about 5 minutes each. The remainder of the time is devoted to answering questions from the audience. Questions can range from the political and religious to the intensely personal, and panelists don't need to answer if they're uncomfortable. Most questions though are thoughtful and are answered fully, usually spawning more questions, often leaving people wondering where the time went when the session ends. Audience reactions vary: some challenge the panelists on religious grounds; some seek advice on how to deal with friends they think might be gay; some want to know if parents feel guilty when they learn they have a LGBT child; some want to know what they should do if their children grow up to be LGBT.

Books, pamphlets and news articles are a good start to educating society about LGBT issues, but they pale when compared to the power of personal experience. No one who sees a PSB panel can ever say they've never met a LGBT person. Every time they see an anti-gay news report or TV show, they'll be reminded of the day when they met openly LGBT people who told them about their lives. They'll have to think about that negative remark or program in the light of what they've seen and heard with their own eyes and ears. Learning from personal experience is stronger than just about any other means. Perhaps the day when there'll be no need for PFLAG, the day when people won't have to experience pain or isolation when discovering they're gay or their child is gay, needn't be so far away.