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The nonprofit organization PFLAG Omaha — Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians & Gays — has served the LGBTQ+ community of the Omaha area since its official recognition as a chartered chapter in 1995.
PFLAG Omaha is one of the 400 chapters of PFLAG National — the first and largest organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people, as well as their parents, families and allies.
To promote the health and well-being of Omaha’s LGBTQ+ community, they offer monthly meetings for support and education regarding sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
PFLAG Omaha also offers a helpline, which is staffed by parents and volunteers who understand LGBTQ+ matters and are eager to help.
According to PFLAG Omaha’s website, the helpline offers:
- Someone to chat with
- Referrals to community service agencies
- Information about monthly meetings
- Other confidential information and support
Secretary and Board Member Jamie Louise Shipman said their helpline is an essential part of the organization.
“We get a lot of people calling because they’re confused,” Shipman said. “There are a lot of parents of gay and lesbian children, or children who come out as transgender or nonbinary, and they don’t understand it. So, we’re there to try to help them understand what’s going on in their lives, and to invite them to our meetings and be part of the organization.”
First-time meeting attendee Victor Francia said he knew about PFLAG Omaha since he was in high school but did not get involved until the monthly meeting this December.
“I didn’t have the courage to go somewhere by myself because I struggled a lot growing up with social anxiety,” Francia said. “So, coming to a social event where there’s a lot of people and I’m by myself was extremely hard, even though I was okay with myself, I understood who I was and my family was very supportive. It was always me bullying myself in my mind because I wouldn’t accept myself.”
Francia said it can be difficult for LGBTQ+ people of the younger generation to find support and understand that it gets better for them.
“I believe your mind changes a lot from 16 to 18, then from 18 to 21, and then again from 21 to 25,” he said. “When you’re younger, you just don’t see the positives because you’re worried about people approving of you. But as time goes by, you learn to be happy with yourself. Sometimes hearing that from somebody else helps a lot. It just gets better because it does.”
What Omaha’s LGBTQ+ community needs
As of 2019, 3.8% of Nebraskans identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community.
“I think the toughest challenge is finding a support group,” Francia said. “When I was younger, I always tried to get myself involved with the Gay–Straight Alliance at school, or there was this other group on Facebook that would hang out, go ice skating, things like that. I think that’s very important to have, and it helped me a lot.”
Francia said listening to other people share their experiences played a big role in finally accepting who he is.
“I can’t tell you how much it helped me to have a support group, because I just felt that I was part of something and I had other people who were like me, just having fun,” he said. “I felt like I couldn’t do that with my other friends because I always had to hide who I was. But there, I was free to be myself.”
In 2020, Nebraska was ranked the 38th worst of the 50 states for LGBTQ+ people to live in, in terms of employment, housing and public accommodation nondiscrimination laws.
Shipman said the lack of information and support is a major problem for the young LGBTQ+ community.
“I am transgender, and I didn’t realize it for many, many years — I thought I was crazy,” Shipman said. “Growing up, I knew who I was. I knew I was a girl by the time I was three years old, but I grew up back in the days when trans didn’t even exist. I wasn’t accepted by my family, and it pretty much forced me into the closet. By the time I was eight, they told me why I couldn’t be a girl, and it pretty much convinced me that I was crazy.”
She said one of PFLAG Omaha’s goals is to educate the community and change people’s hearts and minds.
“When I first came to PFLAG, I saw families here with their young children finding their identity, and it just broke my heart, I just started crying,” she said. “I never had any support my whole life, and that’s what drew me to PFLAG. It’s not just the people, it’s the families that come and support other families.”
Latinx community impact
In partnership with OneWorld Community Health Centers, PFLAG Omaha also offers monthly bilingual support meetings conducted in Spanish and English.
Inclusivity Outreach Coordinator Diana Fajardo said that much of the Latinx community has never been exposed to information about LGBTQ+ people.
“We need to start these conversations from the very beginning, talking about the basics of sex, gender identity and gender expression,” she said. “Parents and families need to understand what it’s like to be an LGBTQ+ person here in the United States, especially for the children who live in two cultures and speak two languages.”
The OneWorld partnership began as a way to care for the comprehensive health of the LGBTQ+ community, focusing on the Latinx population.
“OneWorld offers countless resources for LGBTQ+ people, especially for the transgender community,” Fajardo said. “We give the support aspect, and now we’re doing partnerships with different professionals of the mental health field.”
PFLAG Omaha moved their meetings to Zoom early last year, but they took that time to expand their resources for the Latinx community.
“We created new strategies and educational materials, especially for the side of the community who does not speak English,” Fajardo said. “These resources are very, very limited for them, so we took that time to translate materials and now that we are back to meeting in person, we have been having our meetings with the Latinx group for only two months.”
How to get involved
Fajardo said the holidays are an especially difficult time for the LGBTQ+ community.
“The world is hard as it is, and facing rejection is not easy,” Fajardo said. “I just want everybody to know that we are not alone in this. And when I say we, I include myself as a parent and as a family member, and love conquers all. The love that we feel for our children and family members is strong enough to make a change, but we need to hear you — you need us, and we need you.”
PFLAG Omaha meets every second Thursday of the month at Countryside Community Church for their main meeting, and on every fourth Thursday at OneWorld Health Centers for their bilingual meeting. Meetings are from 6:30-9:00 p.m. and everyone is welcome to attend.
For more information or confidential support, contact their helpline via email at email@example.com or call (402) 291-6781.