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National organization celebrates 50th anniversary while Gainesville chapter struggles in Florida’s political climate

Members of PFLAG Gainesville show their support of LGBTQ students during a Florida Board of Education meeting. (Courtesy of Jane Spear)
Members of PFLAG Gainesville show their support of LGBTQ students during a Florida Board of Education meeting. (Courtesy of Jane Spear)

Jane Spear’s son was 14 years old when he came out to her as gay. The next day she called the organization that was then known as “Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.”

Twenty-nine years later, Spear now serves as the president of the Gainesville chapter of PFLAG. Even at 79, Spear said she feels she must keep pushing.

“I have been fighting for a long time,” Spear said. “I am old, I am tired, but we can’t stop.”

This year, PFLAG is celebrating its 50 th anniversary as the nation’s largest organization dedicated to supporting, educating, and advocating for LGBTQ+ people and those who love them, per the organization’s website. Founded in 1973, PFLAG was born out of the need for parents and families to learn how to support their loved ones.

Throughout its 50-year history, PFLAG has been involved in a variety of LGBTQ issues. According to its website, in the 1980s its members worked to end the United States military’s effort to discharge lesbians from service.

In the early 1990s, chapters in Massachusetts helped pass the nation’s first Safe Schools legislation. Its website notes that PFLAG members were also responsible for the Department of Education’s ruling that Title IX also protected gay and lesbian students from harassment based on sexual orientation.

Although PFLAG’s presence in Gainesville has had its highs and lows, it is now a steady force in the community. Through support, advocacy and education, the organization aims to promote the well-being of LGBTQ individuals and their families. But this isn’t always easy, Spear said.

Florida has seen an influx of LGBTQ-centered legislation since House Bill 1557, known by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, was passed in 2022. More recent legislation, such as HB 1521, requires students to use the restroom corresponding to the sex they were assigned at birth.

Many see these laws as an attack on the LGTBQ community, she said. Some no longer see Florida as a safe place to reside.

Sue Littell, a member of PFLAG Gainesville, has a son who works as a gynecologic oncologist. He came out to her as gay when he was 27, while still in medical residency. Her first reaction was fear of the hardships and homophobia he might face. His response flipped her perspective entirely.

“'Mom, what’s been hard is up until now,'” she said he told her.

Now living in San Francisco, her son has been married to a fellow doctor for 15 years. When he was recruited by University of Florida Health, he made the decision that he could not move to Florida.

“Florida’s not a place that a gay person wants to move to,” Littell said.

Spear noted that this is why PFLAG and similar organizations are so important. She said people need to see themselves and others that are in the same situation.

“Heaven knows this group needs as much comfort and support as they can get,” Spear said.

The Alachua County Inclusive Schools Committee was formed to support the LGBTQ community in the area, she said. This committee was the result of the Alachua County Public Schools removing its LGBTQ support guide from its website.

The goal of this group is to develop a new set of guidelines, in compliance with new laws, that ensure all students are safe, supported and affirmed, per the PFLAG Gainesville website. But Spear said this is no easy task.

“Why do we have to worry and work and maneuver and manipulate so that we don’t make somebody mad,” Spear said. “It’s not right.”

She mentioned that the new guidelines are still in the works and could not give a clear timeline for when they will be implemented.

As the national organization reaches its 50 th anniversary, Spear acknowledged the milestone, saying that the organization must be doing something right and making a difference if it has been around this long.

But she said she knows there is still much to be done. She said people must realize the focus of these issues.

“This isn’t about the school or this district,” Spear said. “It’s not about you and it’s not about me. It’s the children.”

Scarlett is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing