PfCA hosts first PFLAG group in the Upper Arkansas River Valley

Mike Orrill, Leslie Henslee, Mark Monroe, Jimmy Sellars and Shannon Nelson. 

Mike Orrill, Leslie Henslee, Mark Monroe, Jimmy Sellars and Shannon Nelson. 

Salida LGBTQ advocates plan to create groups for parents and youth

Sam Liebl, Mail Staff Writer | Posted: Friday, July 7, 2017 12:06 pm

Parents, children and friends of the LGBTQ community gathered Thursday evening at Sellars Project Space for what organizers hope will be the start of a Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) chapter in Salida.

PFLAG began in 1972 when a mother publicly supported her gay son and has since grown to become the largest family and ally organization for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer.

Jimmy Sellars, one of the organizers of the meeting, said formation of a PFLAG chapter in Salida will help fill a big need in the community for LGBTQ support, especially for youth.

“This is the beginning of a lot of great things in the valley,” Sellars said.

The group is in the “infant” stages of becoming an official chapter, said organizer Mike Orrill, and plans to continue hosting meetings while it goes through the process of joining the national organization.

Orrill, who served as pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Salida, said he is straight and does not have children who identify as LGBTQ, but he feels motivated by his spiritual convictions to support people whom society marginalizes.

“I don’t like the idea of any group being discriminated against,” he said. “I’m interested in breaking down those barriers.”

A parent at the meeting, who did not want to be identified, said PFLAG provides support for children who identify as LGBTQ but also for parents who may feel their world has been turned upside down when their children come out.

“Parents don’t necessarily know what to do. Some get freaked out because its against their religious beliefs or they worry about their child. So it’s important to have someone to talk to, to know that other families go through this, and that they are OK,” the parent said.

Mary Ann Longwell, a licensed counselor who works in Salida, said she sees young people who need more support around LGBTQ issues and is also hopeful that Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) groups will be established soon at Salida High School and Salida Middle School.

Sellars said he is aware of 15 Salida students who are interested in creating GSAs at those schools. With support from teachers and parents, Sellars said he anticipates that students in Salida will form a group soon after the school year begins with the goal of attending a GSA leadership conference in October.

Organizers said the Salida pride celebration in June created momentum for LGBTQ activists in Salida to establish support groups, and future pride events could provide a source of funding for the planned PFLAG chapter and GSAs.

Orrill said he hopes Salida’s PFLAG chapter can provide resources for communities outside Salida and perhaps lead to creation of chapters in Buena Vista, Leadville and Custer County.

Some parents said they drove more than an hour with their children to attend the meeting.