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Jeanne Manford, 92; teacher founded national group of parents of gays

Mrs. Manford at her son’s side during the Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day march.

Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays

Mrs. Manford at her son’s side during the Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day march.

NEW YORK — After her openly gay son was beaten in April 1972 for protesting news coverage of the gay rights movement, Jeanne Manford, an elementary school teacher in Flushing, Queens, did not tell him to stop embarrassing the family. She wrote a letter to the New York Post criticizing the police for not protecting him.

Two months later, she walked alongside him in a gay liberation march, carrying a sign: ‘‘Parents of Gays: Unite in Support for Our Children.’’ These turned out to be the first steps in the founding of ­Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, which announced her death Tuesday, in Daly City, Calif. She was 92.

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“They were every gay person’s parents,’’ said Daniel Dromm, a member from Queens, recalling that Mrs. Manford would comfort bereft young lesbians and gay men, ­estranged from their own families, who made their way to her home in Flushing. (The Manfords were in the phone book.)

In 1973, the Manfords and about 20 others started Parents of Gays, a support program with a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender congregation.

Representatives of support groups met in 1979 to establish an umbrella organization. It took its current name in 1993. It has 350 chapters. Mrs. Manford is identified as its founder.

She was born Jeanne Sobelson in Flushing and graduated from Queens College. She taught fifth grade, sixth grade, and mathin Queens. Her husband, Jules, died in 1982. Their son Charles died in 1966. Morty died of complications of AIDS in 1992. Mrs. Manford leaves a daughter, a granddaughter, and three great-granddaughters.

Her activism began after the 1972 Inner Circle dinner in Manhattan, an annual black-tie affair at which journalists and political leaders mingle. Mrs. Manford’s son showed up to protest news coverage. After a melee, Morty Manford accused Michael J. Maye,president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, of kicking and punching him, an account corroborated by witnesses.Outraged by the attack, Mrs. Manford wrote a letter to the Post, then a liberal newspaper.

She later told Eric Marcus: ‘‘I mentioned in my letter that my son was gay and that the police stood by and watched these young gays being beaten up and did nothing about it, and it was printed. Then Morty called me up and said, ‘You can’t believe how everybody’s talking about your letter!’ I didn’t think anything of it, but I guess it was the first time a mother ever sat down and very publicly said, ‘Yes, I have a homosexual son.’ ’’

Mrs. Manford was surprised when she appeared at her son’s side during the Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day march, a forerunner of the annual gay pride parade. She assumed that the cheers were for Dr. Benjamin Spock, who was directly behind. It was not until bystanders began coming up to her with hugs and tears that she understood that the cheers were for her.

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