Monday, June 30, 2014

Message From PFLAG Merced

After months of deliberation and careful thought, the current PFLAG Board has decided to stop hosting our monthly meetings at the United Methodist Church in Merced.
We will be having our annual summer BBQ on Tuesday, July 8th to celebrate the last 9 years at UMC. Event starts at 630pm. We will provide hamburgers, hotdogs, veggie burgers, and drinks. If you'd like to help bring food, we are asking that people with last names starting A-R bring a side dish, S-Z a dessert (or whatever your little heart desires).
UMC has been a great ally and supporter of our efforts as an organization from day one, almost 9 years ago. And we have enjoyed and greatly appreciated their support of the LGBT community, as a whole. They are one of the only congregations in Merced that has stood up to say to the LGBT community that we are welcome at their church, as we are. Their efforts to create a reconciling congregation that includes the LGBT community within their doors has been an heroic act and for their bravery, we applaud them.
As many of you may know, PFLAG Merced has seen many transitions throughout the years, including shifts in leadership, membership levels, and varied levels of active participation as a group and within the community.
Here is a recap of some of the things that we accomplished throughout the years:
Summer, 2005: a small group of individuals, prompted by Dave Hetland, started a conversation about beginning a PFLAG chapter in Merced. I remember attending the second "steering committee" meeting and feeling the air of excitement and trepidation: how would the greater Merced community respond to us?
Fall, 2005: PFLAG Merced becomes officially incorporated, and elected their first board with their first President, Lisa Cascia.
Lisa did many things for the group including a trip to San Francisco for the "Until there's a Cure" Giants game dedicated to HIV/AIDS awareness. The Giants celebrated their 20th year of hosting the "Until there's a Cure" game just last year. Lisa set a great tone for the group with her calm and cool leadership skills. Her partner, Jamie S., was also a fundamental contributor in the beginnings of the group taking on the position of treasurer, which was a very big role at that time, getting all of our ducks in a row as a legitimate non-profit.
Jamie S. later coordinated the first World AIDS Day event which was held out at UC Merced.
Fall, 2006: PFLAG Merced was lucky enough to have a parent step up into the presidency. Karen Pivirotto brought a loving presence to the group, which many members appreciated. She was our "PFLAG Mom". She stayed on as president for two terms, sharing her second term as a co-president with Eileen Vidales.
Together Eileen and Karen were able to create a presence for PFLAG Merced in the greater Merced community with many events that advocated for the LGBT community.
We began walking in local parades, including the Veteran's parade and the MLK Jr. march. We hosted table across the county, distributing informational packets for family and friends of the LGBT community. Some locations included: downtown Merced, UC Merced, Atwater, Modesto Pride, and at the fairgrounds. We also walked in the SF Pride parade with the PFLAG contingency, one of the most well-loved and well-received groups by the crowd up there.
Feb, 2008: PFLAG accompanied one of our lesbian couple's to the County Clerk's Office asking for marriage certificates. Even though they were denied, the effort help gain local publicity and support, with coverage even on the evening news. I believe we may have gone to the courthouse the year before, only to be denied, as well. This annual Valentine's event was originally advocated for by the California and Marriage Equality movements. 
Summer, 2008: We led the local campaign for "No on Prop. 8" including distributing yard signs, and other materials, standing on street corners holding signs, canvasing neighborhoods, and gaining local publicity. We had supporters from the local Democratic office who steered people our way that wanted yard signs and to help our efforts.
Spring/Summer/Fall, 2008: Several couples in our PFLAG community were able to get married during the short window of time the same-sex marriage was legal in California.
We also hosted the PFLAG regional conference at the United Methodist church which included workshops and over 50 people in attendance from across the state.
Fall, 2008: Christina Borges took over the role of presidency.
2009: Jeane Hetland stepped in to hold her first of three terms as president. She brought a new and fresh energy to the group, reviving the original spirit of our group that also included straight allies.
By this time, PFLAG was hosting some amazing speakers for out programming including Marc Adams with Heartstrong, speakers from Marriage Equality and California Equality, authors, religious leaders, and parents.
Summer/Fall 2010: hosted a comedy night at the Multi-Cultural Arts Center.
Jeane also began some great fundraising efforts for the group and in later years began to host and coordinate a chicken dinner at the church.
By this time, we had held bowling nights, movie nights, and game nights because the LGBT community needed a place to hang out and socialize.
Fall, 2010: Jamie Bradley came on as our president and began integrating a much needed transgender support system and presence.
Fall, 2011-Fall,2013: Jeane Hetland served two more terms as our president.
Spring 2013: Hosted speakers Davina Kotulski (writer and marriage equality advocate) and Rick Jacobs from Courage Campaign at UC Merced. Participated with UC Merced for the Pride week.
There have been many events, programs, and happenings during our time as a group, some of which I was not around to witness. So please forgive me if I have forgotten an important event, program, or happening from our past.
This last year I took on the presidency in an effort to keep PFLAG Merced in tact. This is my fourth term on the PFLAG Merced board and have truly enjoyed watching the community change and embrace the LGBT community, as a whole. I can remember a time in our early years when we carried fear surrounding our participation in some local events, fearing rejection or even retaliation. I have to say, however, that I have been extremely surprised and delighted to see how our small community right here in Merced has embraced change.
The PFLAG Board has been discussing, for more than a year, whether or not PFLAG was needed any longer here in our community. We asked our membership to rise up into leadership roles, so that the group could continue doing its work here in the community. In the past year, we have cut costs in an attempt to maintain the group because we, in fact, do still provide a lot of support to the community, and parents or family who are struggling with a loved one coming out.
I am excited to say that another local LGBT group in Merced has begun the process of opening an LGBT Community Center! Right here in Merced!!!! Merced Full Spectrum is currently in the process of making this happen, although an opening date has not been released at this time. In return, PFLAG Merced has decided to stop hosting our monthly meetings for the time being, mainly because of a lack of new leadership, and lack of attendance. We will continue to maintain an online presence for people needing individual support. We will hold a meeting in the Fall inviting any membership to attend in order to evaluate the future of PFLAG Merced.
I urge you to join us for our last meeting at the United Methodist Church this coming TUESDAY, JULY 8th at 630pm. Our annual BBQ!!! We are hoping that in the coming months, someone may feel called to take on the group in order to begin hosting meetings at the new LGBT Community Center. If you might be interested, feel free to shoot me an email, and I'd love to meet with you. Or if you're interested in joining the local efforts to open the LGBT Community Center please contact Marissa at
Thank you so very much for your continued support over the years.
Leslie Johnston
PFLAG Merced, President
PFLAG Merced 
Meetings: 2nd Tuesday of the month, 7pm, at the United Methodist Church in Merced
899 Yosemite Parkway, Fireside Room, (use the Cypress St. parking lot)

PO Box 2446 - Merced, CA - 95344
209.341.2122 (leave a message and someone will return your call)
see our website at

We offer support for parents, families, and friends who are dealing with issues regarding an LGBT loved one. Join us for support! Or refer us to someone who may need it.

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