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Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

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The LGBTQ community and their families face many unique issues and challenges. In rural New Mexico, advocacy and alliance groups for families of LGBTQ kids are few and far between. Recent data shows that over 50,000 incidents of bullying and harassment of LGBTQ students in New Mexico schools go unreported every year. PFLAG Silver City, one of 200 chapters of PFLAG National, offers support for rural LGBTQ persons, their families and their allies.

Few places exist in rural towns and villages in New Mexico where you can meet other LBGTQ people, hang out, find friends and have a social life. PFLAG offers links with local people and organizations. If you are a parent, for example, you can talk on the phone or in person with another parent. The group shares ways you can support and advocate for your LGBTQ friends, family and neighbors. It also offers confidential meetings where you can meet people, or just listen in a relaxed and welcoming place.

Damie Nelson, president of PFLAG Silver City first became aware of PFLAG when she taught her first “out” high school student. The organization showed her how to be supportive and advocate for the rights of LGBTQ students. “We had our first out gay student at Cliff High School. The young man transferred to Cliff because he was being bullied at Silver High and he just wanted to graduate,” Nelson explained. The bullying continued at Cliff High School.

“I realized that I didn’t know enough to really help him graduate and to protect him,” Nelson said. She asked the then-president of PFLAG to come give a talk to her class at Cliff High School. “I had to get a parent permission slip for students to listen to her story; but even then, there was backlash,” Nelson said.

PFLAG often gets calls from parents and grandparents. “Their child or grandchild has come out, and they don’t know what to do next,” Nelson said. “They’re overwhelmed, and they want to support their kids. They just don’t know how. Once they receive support from PFLAG, they realize they can support their child through their transition, and be there for them fully as a parent or grandparent; and not only accept them, but celebrate them as well.” she said.

PFLAG produces helpful booklets and other publications that can be purchased or downloaded off their website bookstore. Nelson said PFLAG has worked with local public schools to reduce bullying by providing training for teachers, coaches, administrators and counselors. “They are excited to learn more on how they can better serve the students that they’re responsible for,” Nelson said.

Nelson said there’s also a need to educate local medical professionals about the unique needs of LGBTQ patients, especially transgender patients. “Once things get opened up, we’re going to be working with the local ACLU, to get that training out. After that I’d love to do some work with law enforcement.”

PFLAG Silver City can be contacted at 575-590-8797. Include a safe phone number, and a PFLAG member will call you back. 

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