A new meeting of PFLAG, a support group for LGBTQ people and their families and allies, has started in Sandy Springs to serve what organizers say is a particular demand for transgender support.

The monthly meeting is a spinoff of PFLAG’s Johns Creek chapter and is intended to cover Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, Buckhead and other nearby communities.

“Out here in the suburbs, the predominance of people coming to us for support are dealing with transgender issues,” said Ann Miller, PFLAG Johns Creek’s board president, who has a 21-year-old transgender son.

She said the Johns Creek meeting is “almost 100 percent transgender or gender-nonconforming [people, family and allies] … I believe that this [Sandy Springs] one will be the same.”

Originally named Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, PFLAG was formed in 1972 by a New York City mother who marched alongside her gay son in a pride parade. The group now has more than 400 chapters nationwide.

PFLAG is known for its support group meetings led by parents who have gone through similar personal and social challenges of raising LGBTQ children.

“It’s tremendously comforting to talk to another parent,” said Miller, who serves a facilitator at meetings. “Another parent understands in a way that just an ally would not.”

LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) people are welcome to attend as well, and some chapters, including the one in Johns Creek, also offer peer-led support meetings for youths. The youth meetings are not coming to the Sandy Springs location for now, Miller said, but may, if there’s demand.

PFLAG has chapters in Marietta and downtown Atlanta, but Johns Creek is the only chapter near the booming Ga. 400 corridor. Its ongoing meetings are in a church that is not handy to many Perimeter-area residents, Miller said. The new spinoff meeting, at Congregation B’Nai Torah on Mount Vernon Highway, is less than a mile from a Ga. 400 interchange.

Parents have been “clamoring” for a Perimeter-area meeting, Miller said. “The hope is it will become its own chapter,” she said.

Some longstanding PFLAG groups, like Atlanta’s, have a core of gay, lesbian and bisexual people, Miller said. In Johns Creek, she said, the chapter found that many parents today find sexual orientation easier to understand than gender identity.

“Most parents are like, ‘OK, you’re gay. We know that,’” Miller said. “But transgender has many other layers … There are so many more worries.”

“When your son comes out as gay, the only thing that really changes is who they date,” she said, while transgender identity raises other concerns: “Do they want to transition? Does their name change?”

Transgender youths often suffer depression and anxiety “because they have not felt themselves all their lives,” Miller said, and in local schools, they often face bullying that is “subtle, whispered, online.”

Attending a PFLAG meeting is fairly simple. The ground rules include agreeing to a confidentiality statement and no discussion of politics, religion or sex.

“You’re going to get greeted with a smile,” said Miller.

Attendees take turns speaking to the group and can choose not to say anything at all, even their names. Attendees “can share what they want to share, as much or as little,” Miller said.

The first Sandy Springs PFLAG meeting was scheduled to be held June 6. The next one is planned for July 5. For more information, see PFLAGJohnsCreek.org.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.

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