By Alex Robinson
For Jeanne Manford, it never mattered that her son, Morty, was gay.
The teacher and her family, regarded as pioneers in the American gay rights movement, were posthumously honored last weekend outside their old house in Flushing.
Elected officials joined gay rights advocates, community leaders and neighbors to remember the Manfords and unveil a sign co-naming 171st Street in their honor.
“We wanted to do this street renaming so that everyone would know who lived here,” said openly gay City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who was instrumental in getting the street co-named. “The beautiful thing about this story today is it is not only about LGBT history. This story is about a family’s love.”
Jeanne Manford first became vocal in the gay rights movement when her son, who was a prominent gay rights activist, was beaten up while handing out fliers at the 1972 Inner Circle dinner. She wrote a letter to the New York Post expressing her outrage at how Morty was treated and then became the first mother to march in the New York City Pride Parade with her son that year.
Jeanne and her husband, Jules, made several television and radio interviews in the following weeks to advocate gay rights.
The Manford family opened their house to other gay New Yorkers who were outcasts from their own homes.
“Jeanne was to what many gay people don’t have: their mother and Jules was their father,” Dromm said. “Many of my own friends have never come out to their parents or never had the opportunity and their parents are gone. So Jeanne opened that door.”
The Manford house, which was on 171st Street off 35th Avenue, became a refuge for many whose own families were not willing to accept them in the 1970s.
Former State Sen. Tom Duane was one of the people who found safe haven at the Manford house.
“When things got unbearable, we would walk here, to the Manford house. We were always welcome. We had dinner here all the time,” said Duane’s brother, John, a former state assemblyman who attended the ceremony.
Duane said he and his brother got their inspiration to enter elected office from the Manfords.
“When I look at what my brother has accomplished and I look at where it started, I have to say thank you Manford family,” he said.
The street will also now bare a sign that reads “Jeanne, Jules, Morty Manford PFLAG Way.”
Jeanne Manford’s daughter, Suzanne, who grew up in the Manford house but now lives in San Francisco, attended the ceremony.
“This house was a wonderful place to grow up,” she said. “My parents were ordinary people. They were schoolteachers and they loved their gay son. They caught the attention of other families and children who were looking for someone to talk to. They got the conversation started.”
Morty Manford was a founding member of the Gay Activists Alliance, which he was heavily involved with until he died from AIDS in 1992.
Jeanne and Jules Manford founded a support group for parents of gays and lesbians, which turned into an international organization called Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and now has more than 200,000 members worldwide.
Jeanne Manford was awarded the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal by President Barack Obama for her work and died at the age of 92 last year.
Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.