Both organization have been working in the sphere of LGBT-movements for decades. Has the concept of «the organizations’ activities» been changed with years?
Beth Kohm: At the very beginning of the organization’s main focus was on support of LGBT-children and their parents. At that time people had only begun talking about these issues or making coming- outs to their friends and family members. And giving support, empathy and encouragement was urgent. Currently, we face the shift of the focus into advocacy of LGBT rights, Corporate Equality surveys and adoption of same sex marriage laws. The concept hasn’t absolutely changed. I’d say the organization’s functions have increased. But we still do a lot about support as well. Moreover, we are dealing with challenges of transgender kids more and more helping them during those troublesome periods of transition.
Dale Bernstein: As a person engaged in the processes of advocating LGBT-people’s rights, I should admit that PFLAG continues performing its functions of educating people and advocating their rights. But a new tendency now for a couple of late years is involvement of business in these processes. Recent example is participation of businesses in the discussions around same sex marriage issue. They were afraid of being associated with LGBT-movement of late. The situation has changed.
Gary Bernstain: As a gay son’s parent, I’m happy to know about these open discussions about same sex marriage laws throughout the country. But I also want to add that nowadays PFLAG is doing much to establish connections with religious community. I heard this matter is sensitive in Ukraine as well. It’s complicated in America but PFLAG is moving towards the religious community trying to meet and start the conversation. We face the process started and that is a good sign of our time.
Dale Bernstein: The activity of PFLAG is still actual because notwithstanding all these changes there are many places in America where people are afraid of telling their parents about their homosexuality because hey may throw them out of their houses.
Diego Sanchez: I want to speak on behalf of transgender community. I am fortunate enough to have loving and understanding parents. But there are many people who expose themselves to risk in case they disclose their true nature to their close people. The reality is that if they come out, they put their life, the family or career at risk.
Beth Kohm: We started as a volunteer organization. At first it was one mum. Then eight supporters started a support group in New York city. By word of mouth people used to spread information. We should remember it was pre-Internet time. Within a year people decide to cooperate. And only 18 years later the National headquarters was opened. By that time there were 75 chapters. Nowadays PFLAG has a Chapter network throughout the entire country and our chapters are mostly volunteer organizations comprise of parents, friends and close people of LGBT.
Diego Sanchez: Everything got started with one mom marching for her son on the parade. Other people started saying “I want my mom to get in touch with you. I want my mom to talk to you.” The organization started in New York city.
Inge Brouling: In Germany people found it difficult to cope with homosexuality of their children, mainly their sons. Everything started after 1975 because before people were punished for being gays. After decriminalization no any other law existed. But attitudes change slowly. Parents felt shy to tell about their LGBT children to anyone. Their LGBT children helped them, they spread information about parents who wanted to communicated with each other. So firstly, everything happened on personal basis. Then they founded small groups in parishes or on the basis of LGBT organizations. I entered the organization in 1992. We met privately and only in 1997 BEFAH was founded. It took quite a while to start an organization. Now our meetings are funded by the government that pays for meeting rooms.
Beth Kohm: We also are lucky to get support from the government. But nevertheless we have conservative parties that are against LGBT people and they don’t recognize LGBT families though they call themselves “Christians”. But the process is developing in the country and more and more religious organizations are seeking ways to reconcile LGBT issues with their faith.
What prejudices do LGBT people face in your countries?
Dale Bernstein: The most obvious ones are regional and political. It depends on which part of the country you are in. We often meet facts when parents reject their children. There are still a lot of prejudices all over the country. Some of them are stereotypes. 20% still claim they don’t know who LGBT are. We have some courageous people among famous public figure who come out but not always with good results.
Gary Bernstain: Moreover, gay people are very often targets for bad jokes, poor humor in most parts of the countries. And many people think it’s ok to say bad things about these people. And that’s what we are trying to change. In our TV programs we often say that’s not ok to make jokes out of these things.
Diego Sanchez: Transgender people face even more prejudices than LGBT. Our identification numbers don’t have an identification of a sex which may harm me as transgender person if I want to apply for a job.
We aren’t permitted to serve in the Army. Transgender women have to go through lots of surgery and cosmetic procedures which are very expensive and aren’t covered by medical insurance. Before changes the person has to have lots of talks with social workers and psiciatrists.
Dale Bernstein: The people may face lots of prejudices at their work. We have these studies. About 50% of young people go back into closet when they start working. They were open at universities but decided to close when they start their career. Another big portion of our work is diversity of communities and every one has its own attitude towards gay issue. For instance, Christian/religious community is very loudly against gay.
Inge Brouling: There are prejudices in Germany such as bullying and sin. Even your neighbor will feel hostile, if he finds out you are a gay. Some religious people when they pretend to be Christian use the word ‘sin’. Sometimes, gay are used to be blamed. Moreover, parents of transgender people have the same problems like parents of gay. But transgender people have to really prove that they want to change, that they really mean it.
What is your vision of LGBT-rights issue in Ukraine while, as we know, good situation for LGBT rights is when there is economic prosperity in the country?
Beth Kohm: My personal vision is that these organizations like TERGO and their activities are important. People should see families, share their stories and experiences. Also, you need to have external forces that push the changes, push your government and the like. There is no magic but every day work to influence the society.
Diego Sanchez: I would mention a great impact of role modeling on the society. When people can see that, for example, a transgender person may achieve success in his life and make a good career.
Gary Bernstain: Business is very important in promoting LGBT rights. In our country business known for its intolerance may face lots of serious problems. But in countries like yours, the issues of LGBT rights and many other similar issues may left behind because of urgency of other problems to solve. Economics is a drive for changes. There is always resistance but when big business says we need it because it’s good for business. They usually know how the majority of the American population thinks and they try to see mutual benefit.