When and why was your organisation created?
FFLAG, as a national charity, was launched in 1993, at a meeting in Stonewall’s London office. But its origins lie 30 years earlier, when Rose Robertson, our founder, set up Parent’s Enquiry – the first support group for parents and their LGB children. Over the following years, local groups and helplines staffed by parents, were established all around the UK and at one time there were 41 helplines in operation. As well as supporting each other, parents started to campaign for equal rights for their children and this prompted the need for a national umbrella organisation to coordinate all the grass roots work. And so the charity FFLAG was born.
Tell us about the work you do? (In general, and for the trans community specifically)
FFLAG’s purpose is to help families to accept and support their LGBT+ loved ones. We offer peer support to parents whose children are LGBT+. We do this through our helpline and email support: FFLAG SUPPORT, our online resources and our Local Parent Groups. If you contact FFLAG, you will be speaking to another parent, and ideally we’ll find you someone whose family situation is similar. We’re not professionals, so we don’t give advice; we listen without judgement, we’re a safe space to let out any worries and fears and we can signpost resources we’ve found useful.
We recognise that family love and support can make a huge difference to the outcomes for LGBT+ young people; we understand that parents can sometimes struggle with the news that their child is LGBT+. Parents who contact us often say, ‘I’m absolutely fine with my child being LGBT+ – so why am I feeling like this?’ Sometimes parents are scared about discrimination that their child may face; some feel grief at the ‘loss’ of an imagined future; others really don’t understand what is going on for their child, feel scared and need information.
We’re very aware that many people who are now parents grew up under the restrictions of Section 28, and so were deliberately kept uninformed about LGBT+ lives. That lack of information can breed fear. We’re here to say that it’s ok to feel like this and to provide a space for parents to let out those feelings, which they probably don’t want to reveal to their children. And we don’t have an age limit for the ‘children’ in the families we support, recognising that people can come out at any life stage – and parents are parents for life!
FFLAG initially supported families with LG&B children. But since the mid 2010s we received an increasing number of requests for help from parents of trans youngsters, and so we have worked to become trans inclusive. A key part of our online resources are our booklets, How Do I Tell My Parents? and A Guide for Family and Friends, which were originally written by our founder Rose Robertson and existed in LGB versions. We’ve adapted and updated these over the years – and as FFLAG became trans inclusive, created trans versions. Our booklets are always written from experience and the best part of them is the quotes, where trans young people and their families have shared their experiences.
We’ve also adapted our local group support. During the Covid pandemic a lot of our local groups obviously had to start meeting up online. Now most are resuming in person meetings, but the Bristol group recognised the benefit of online meetings for those parents who can’t access a local meeting. So they are continuing to offer a monthly online (Zoom) meeting, separately from their monthly in person get together, and the Zoom meeting is open to parents wherever they live. This group supports an increasing number of families with trans youngsters.
FFLAG’s work includes education and advocacy. We want to be visible as families who love and celebrate our LGBT+ loved ones and to campaign for equality and inclusion, increasingly so for trans rights. We march at Prides, hold conferences and give talks, notably to the staff groups of large organisations who want to support inclusivity. We are also a member of the International Gender Inclusion Network, IGEN.
We’re really proud to be launching the new booklet, How Do I Tell my Children? which was inspired by demand from trans parents transitioning later in life and needing to explain this to their children. For this booklet we interviewed many parents who generously shared their experiences and we thank Trans in the City and The Intercom Trust who helped us to find contributors by publicising the project within their networks. The stories shared are really wonderful and we hope this will be a great resource for trans parents and their families.
Why is it important to acknowledge events like Trans Awareness Week and Trans Day of Remembrance?
As parents we want our children to grow up feeling safe, loved and secure in the knowledge that they have a place in society. Our trans children deserve to grow up knowing that they enjoy those same protections, rights and respect, not just amongst family and friends, but as they make their way in the world.
Sadly the British media seems to be determined to perpetuate negative myths about trans people. But we firmly believe that the general public are not as opposed to trans inclusion as this vocal minority insists. We feel sure that if people had better understanding of trans lives, acceptance and respect would flow from that and so a good way to combat these prejudices is to raise trans awareness by speaking out about unremarkable, everyday, happy family lives. Family life is relatable to most people. So Trans Awareness Week is a good opportunity to remind people that trans people are our children, our parents, our siblings, our friends, and that being trans is just a part of family life.
Trans Day of Remembrance is a much more sombre occasion. But it’s important to raise awareness too about the impact of hate crime on trans people, to honour those who have died, to speak out against violence and to demand better for our children, our friends and our family members.