Thirty years after it was established, the Coachella Valley chapter of the national nonprofit PFLAG, formerly called the Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, has disbanded.
The move was made official on Feb. 12, one day before the organization received one of seven community service awards from the Palm Springs Human Rights Commission. And while the group’s leadership said that they’re sad to say goodbye, the reason for the dissolution is somewhat positive: There are lots of other LGBTQ+ organizations across Palm Springs doing similar work.
“I don’t want to say that we felt redundant,” said Sly Zelnys, co-president of PFLAG’s local chapter. “But during the Covid shutdown we asked ourselves: ‘Why are we here?’”
The many resources and other nonprofits located in the western portion of the Coachella Valley are more than enough to help the community, Zelnys said, adding, “The areas we cover most are being covered very well by others.”
Back when Zelnys first joined PFLAG in 1998, she remembers a very different climate for LGBTQ+ people — even in Palm Springs.
One of the founders of the local PFLAG chapter, George Spencer, even told her at the time: “If I’m not told I’m going to hell every day, I’m not doing my job,” Zelnys said. Still, in those early days, she was impressed by the wide range of people she met, including both straight and gay parents, trans women, and people generally struggling with their identity.
The national organization PFLAG was created in 1972, after co-founder Jeanne Manford marched with her son, gay activist Morty Manford, in the New York Pride March. The organization is the first and largest group to organize parents, friends and allies of the LGBTQ+ community, and now has more than 400 chapters across the country with roughly 200,000 total members and supporters.
In the desert, there are about 30 members and an email list of 350 people. Zelnys said most of those members are older.
“We’re more like grandparents instead of parents in support of the LGBTQ+,” she said, and many of them are “volunteered out.”
Some of the greatest need for support and education of families of LGBTQ+ people is in the eastern Coachella Valley, Zelnys added.
“It’s a younger population that speaks Spanish and maybe doesn’t have all the resources you find in Palm Springs,” she said. “PFLAG just doesn’t have the horsepower to go beyond our limited geography.”
But Zelnys also points to The LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert as one of the organizations making huge strides in the eastern half of the valley. The Coachella chapter opened in 2021 and offers culturally competent programming serving LGBTQ+ people, including youths, from Coachella to North Shore.
“They’ve got the funds. They’ve got the facility,” she said. “They’ve got the Spanish-speaking capabilities and resources that we don’t have, to do the work in areas that need them the most.”
As for PFLAG’s remaining treasury, Zelnys said the organization hasn’t decided where exactly the funds will go. By law, the chapter has to distribute what’s left after its own “obligations are settled” to eligible nonprofits, she said, naming The Center and Safe Schools as examples of notable organizations.
Zelnys admits that it’s an uncertain time nationally — with some proposed legislation that could harm LGBTQ+ communities, particularly transgender youth — but she still has a lot of hope for the future.
PFLAG’s local chapter might be no more, but its motivated members aren’t going anywhere; they could always pop up at local marches, protests and parades.
“We tend to be activists,” said Zelnys . “So we might be slowing down, but it’s in our nature to be supportive of the folks doing the work that we can’t do ourselves.”