By: Christine Nicco/TRT Reporter—
Founded in 1972, PFLAG is the nation’s largest family and ally organization serving the LGBTQ community with over 350 chapters across the country. One of said chapters is the Greater Boston PFLAG, an organization that has been making leaps and bounds since the inception of its new President and Executive Director, Tom Bourdon, just one year ago.
Bourdon is no stranger to the non-profit world or advocacy work. Having served in various leadership roles within organizations primarily focused on LGBT issues, it is no surprise that Bourdon has been at the helm of Greater Boston PFLAG’s rapid expansion of services and programs.
In this exclusive interview, The Rainbow Times caught up with Bourdon about his accomplishments as President/Executive Director of the Greater Boston PFLAG as he candidly shared his initiatives, motivations and hopeful legacy.
The Rainbow Times: You’ve been involved with the Greater Boston PFLAG for just over a year now. Why was it important to you to step into the role of President/Executive Director?
Tom Bourdon: I personally did not “come out” (as a gay man) until after college. I had spent so many years struggling with accepting my own identity and feeling like I was in an environment where others would accept me, as well. Once I was finally able to be my true, authentic self, I received so much support and love. This made me want to do whatever I could to help others find support and understanding. Greater Boston PFLAG’s mission is to provide support, education, and advocacy that will help create safer environments for LGBTQ people. For those reasons, I felt so fortunate to step into the role of President/Executive Director and help lead the charge.
Q. What is your vision for Greater Boston PFLAG? Have you achieved it?
A. My ultimate vision is to live in a world where people can proudly and safely be themselves, and where our diverse identities are better understood and celebrated. I want this be the case for people of all ages—in all of our homes, schools, places of worship, workplaces, health care facilities, etc. I wish I could say we’ve achieved this, but we have a long way to go!
Q. Greater Boston PFLAG now has 16 different parent/family support groups (6 being specific to parents of trans*/gender non-conforming children). How many groups did it have before you came on board?
A. Two or three support groups ‘officially’ started after I came onto the staff. As they say, “it takes a village,” and this is definitely the case as far as why our programming continues to succeed and grow. Greater Boston PFLAG is so fortunate to have an incredible army of deeply committed volunteers, board members, and staff. [pullquote]I had spent so many years struggling with accepting my own identity and feeling like I was in an environment where others would accept me, as well. Once I was finally able to be my true, authentic self, I received so much support and love. This made me want to do whatever I could to help others find support and understanding.[/pullquote]
Q. Six out of 16 support groups focus on transgender and/or gender non-conforming (GNC) children. How does supporting parents with transgender children different than supporting parents with a lesbian, gay, or bisexual child?
A. When comparing and contrasting the support groups, there are some areas where parents of LGB and transgender, gender non-conforming, and/or genderqueer (T/GNC/GQ) children might relate, such as wanting to know how they can be supportive; realizing their child has an integral aspect of their identity to which the parent cannot relate; or having fears if their child will be safe and accepted. However, there are so many additional issues that parents of T/GNC/GQ children are also likely to be facing. We have these separate groups because when people need support, it is immensely helpful to find others to whom they can closely relate. Gender identity is our biggest growth area in terms of individuals coming to us looking for help. More and more people, young children included, are “coming out” in regards to their gender identity. For this reason, the need for such groups continues to grow.
Q. You also offer a telephone hotline. Who can take advantage of the hotline and what are the next steps after that call ends?
A. Generally we receive calls from parents looking for support because their child might identify somewhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Occasionally, we receive calls from non-parents with similar circumstances, or LGBTQ+ people themselves who are looking for support or resources. We do our best to point anyone who contacts us in the direction of support, whether it’s something our organization can provide or towards other resources that would be helpful.
Q. Under your award-winning Safe Schools and Communities program, Greater Boston PFLAG conducted 250 workshops this past year alone reaching over 15,000 people. One hundred and eighty (180) of those workshops were in local schools, and the remainder held in workplaces, hospitals, places of worship, etc. What is the intent of the workshops? What do you hope attendees get out of them?
A. Our intent is to change hearts and minds, and create environments that are safer for LGBTQ people. Looking at very recent statistics, it is clear that even here in Massachusetts there is still so much work to do. The 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that in MA, 38 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual high schools had been bullied over the past year, and 24.4 percent had tried to take their own life in the past year (compared to 4.4 percent of their straight peers). These horrifying numbers are typically found to be even worse for transgender people. When looking outside of schools and at the workplace, over 50 percent of people were found to be closeted on the job, across all states and industries. We hope that people leave Greater Boston PFLAG workshops wanting to be part of the change that is so desperately needed. People can go to our website or contact our office if they are interested in working with us.
Q. Often times, many anti-LGBT messages are being sent out by certain religious groups from the pulpit. Do you work with the religious community to bring an understanding to LGBT issues?
A. Absolutely. We love working with communities of faith! Truth be told, we are often contacted by religious entities that already consider themselves “welcoming” or “open and affirming” to LGBTQ people. We love working with them, but we also hope to get into more communities of faith that are closer to the start of that journey, where they might be hoping to learn more and begin the process of opening their hearts and minds.
Q. What do you view as your greatest accomplishment to date as the Greater Boston PFLAG President/Executive Director?
A. I have been working really hard to get people to understand that Greater Boston PFLAG is an organization that exists to serve our entire community. We are not simplya parent-support group, or an organization focusing exclusively on schools, either. Let me be clear, those are two really important areas of focus for us, in a major and wonderful way, but we are also providing support, education, and advocacy in so many other places—hospitals, workplaces, places of worship, branches of the military, communities centers, and the list goes on. I am very proud that this message is getting out there, and that our work continues to evolve and expand.
Q. What has been your biggest challenge since stepping into this role?
A. Personally speaking—keeping up! There is so much need in our community, and it can feel like the work is never done. I’m also the husband to an amazing man and father to the two most beautiful children in the world, so being able to balance three such important roles is tricky. But fortunately, they are three awesome roles that I am so lucky to fill, so it’s a balancing act.
Q. How would your closest family and friends describe you, using three words?
A. I had to ask my husband this one! He said passionate, smart, and approachable.
Q. What is something fun and crazy that the community would be surprised to learn about you?
A. Hmmmm … Rumor has it [that] there is an old episode of “Power Rangers” where I can be seen being chased around a beach by the “stink monster!”
Q. If there were one thing that you could eradicate in the world, what would it be?
Q. What legacy would you like to leave behind?
A. I would love to be known as someone who, in some way, made this world a better place.
Greater Boston PFLAG will celebrate Bourdon’s first complete year as President/Executive Director of the organization at their Pride and Passion event to be held on May 11. To learn more about this event, or Greater Boston PFLAG, visit www.gbpflag.org.