Tuesday, May 13, 2014

LGBT North Iowa B.G.&S. and A.G.&S.

I grew up in exclusively B.C. or A.D. time, "B.C" standing for "Before Christ" and "A.D.," for Anno Domini" or "In the Year of Our Lord." Today, C.E. (Common, occasionally Christian, Era) and B.C.E. (Before Common Era) are increasing in popularity among speakers of English --- and there's quite a bit of debate about that.

But for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people who live in or have ties to North Iowa, there's no debate about another division of time into eras, B.G.&S. and A.G.&S. --- Before Genth & Swenson and After Genth & Swenson.

I bring this up now because PFLAG North Iowa is celebrating its tenth anniversary this week. Although the acronym is preferred usage these days, those initials stand for Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays. Dean Genth, a retired business executive, and Dr. Gary Swenson, a radiologist, partners then and husbands now, were its co-founders in 2004.


Genth & Swenson blazed several trails in North Iowa, including what I'm guessing may have been the first church-based holy union ceremony for a same-sex couple in Mason City, hosted by the wonderful people at First Presbyterian Church on Nov. 27, 2004, and attended by a couple of hundred friends and associates.

I happened to be in charge of the news desk that Saturday when a call was transferred to me and someone asked, "Do you know WHAT?!? they're doing at the PRESBYTERIAN?!? church?

"Actually, yes, but we weren't invited," I think I said (spies everywhere you know). "And your point is?"

Dean and Gary were married legally at The Music Man Square, also in Mason City, not long after same-sex marriage was authorized in Iowa during April of 2009.


PFLAG was founded more or less officially during 1973 by an elementary school teacher from New York, Jeanne Manford, who had been outraged into activism when her gay son was beaten while distributing flyers at a political gathering in New York City and police looked the other way.

PFLAG grew into a national organization with hundreds of chapters and a uniquely organized mission. Individual LGBT people are welcomed and affirmed, but the aim is to form a mutually supportive circle of  family and friends around them.

The organization advocates effectively for LGBT equality, but also serves as a primary resource for those who love LGBT people, often newly out, and would benefit from the advice and support of others who have traveled the road before.

Genth and Swenson, who had experience elsewhere with the organization, set about organizing the North Iowa chapter earlier in the year of their holy union, supported again by First Presbyterian Church, still the site of most PFLAG meetings.

PFLAG plus Genth & Swenson have made a world of difference for LGBT people across North Iowa and for their families.

B.G.&S., the public face of the region's "gay community" was a post office box to which, I suppose, one might have written. There was no one to call, no source for advice and certainly no public setting for mutual support. Now there is, and I'm certain that presence has made a positive difference in hundreds of lives and  saved some, too.

So thanks, PFLAG North Iowa --- and happy birthday! I'm glad we live in the A.G.&S. era, and so are many, many others.


PFLAG North Iowa celebrated its anniversary Monday night during a potluck at the Genth/Swenson home followed by the chapter's regular meeting at First Presbyterian Church in Mason City with National PFLAG Executive Director Jody Huckaby as special guest.

The Ames PFLAG Chapter will host Huckaby during a meeting at 7 p.m. today at the YSS Building, 420 Kellogg Avenue, in Ames.

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