MOUNT VERNON — PFLAG Skagit welcomed members of the LGBTQ community and allies from around the state for a three-day conference this weekend.
PFLAG is the largest national organization for families, friends and members of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trans and queer community.
This is the first time the Skagit chapter has hosted the bi-annual PFLAG Washington State Council conference, said Kathy Reim, PFLAG Skagit communications chair and previous president.
She estimated between 60 and 70 people attended, including those from nine state PFLAG chapters.
Since it started in 2000, the Skagit chapter has grown to about 60 members, and in the last two years has started a speakers series to educate schools, businesses, health care providers, law enforcement and more on topics relating to gender identity and sexual orientation, she said Saturday.
“We were finally able to suggest that coming to Mount Vernon would be a wonderful opportunity, and the state council agreed,” she said.
The weekend featured workshops on storytelling, grassroots organizing, bystander intervention training, the science of gender, toxic masculinity and more.
The conference keynote speaker was Paula Stone Williams, a counselor and transgender pastor from Boulder, Colorado, who discussed gender equity and her transition to a woman.
Formerly an evangelical preacher and leader of a religious nonprofit organization, Williams said she lost jobs and friends when she decided to transition.
“If it weren’t for my PFLAG chapter, I would have been lost that first year,” she said.
Support networks are key for members of the transgender community, which face a disproportionately high suicide rate, Williams said.
She also discussed dealing with transphobia.
“No one’s mind is changed through debate,” she said. “We don’t take in new information unless it comes through a nonthreatening way.”
Lindsey Bowen of Mount Vernon said she attended the conference to educate herself on issues relating to sexual preference and gender identity. Bowen, who is directing a production of “Pray the Gay Away” at McIntrye Hall this fall, said the arts are one way to connect with people.
Matthew Jeffries, director of the Gender Identity/Expression and Sexual Orientation Resource Center at Washington State University in Pullman, was interested in learning about resources for K-12 students and their parents.
“We want to learn more about what parents are doing to support students before college,” he said.
Skagit PFLAG Board member Linden Jordan said it was good to show off the local chapter’s work.
“We’re at the forefront of what PFLAG is doing in the state,” he said.
— Reporter Jacqueline Allison: firstname.lastname@example.org, 360-416-2145, Twitter: @Jacqueline_SVH