Pawleys Island gains area’s first chapter of adult LGBTQ-affirming group

Grand Strand

PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. (WBTW) – A new LGBTQ-affirming group wants to change the culture of the Grand Strand to make it more supportive towards gay and transgender teens. 

“The reason for our group is really – this is a hard place to be a gay teenager, and it started with a trip to the library,” said Diane Barnett, the president of the Pawleys Island chapter of PFLAG, a national, nonprofit organization made up of adults who are LGBTQ, are parents of LGBTQ children, or are allies.

Barnett couldn’t find a single book in the library’s young adult section that had any representation of gay or gender noncomforming kids. Teens, Barnett said, should be able to walk into a library and see themselves in a book. She’s worked to shift that — and wants more changes in education systems. She wants school employees to back teams, pointing to the lack of Gay-Straight Alliance clubs in districts.

After watching several LGBTQ high school and college students get kicked out of their homes for their identities, she talked to Rev. Ryan Currie, the assistant rector at Holy Cross Faith Memorial Episcopal Church, about doing more. Two years later, they formed the first PFLAG chapter in the area. There are only four other chapters in the state – located in Aiken, Columbia, Greenville and Spartanburg.

“We really felt like that was meeting a crisis level around here,” said Currie, who is a gay man and the secretary of the local PFLAG’s board.

Currie and Barnett wanted to create a voice for LGBTQ people in the area, particularly when it comes to helping youth. They discussed issues with families, school systems, heads of institutions and churches. 

“Still, around here, there are a lot of people who are unfamiliar with the reality of being a LGBTQ person,” Currie said. “Not something that you see on tv, not a stereotype, but the reality of how we live our lives.”

The group held its first meeting in October. 

Barnett wants change to come from the top, with leaders who make decisions in the community. The group is not politically affiliated, but does do advocacy work. It wants to focus on educating the community.

“The goal is to change the idea of where we live, and human dignity should be extended to all people, not just people who look, believe and love who you think should look, and believe, and love,” Barnett said. 

Barnett said several youths were having problems with getting hired due to how they present. She compiled a list of employers who are allies of the LGBTQ community, and the teens all got jobs. The goal, she said, is to not have an identity prevent someone from getting hired. 

“The biggest thing would be to change the culture, and to just let these kids feel accepted in their community by changing the culture,” she said. 

For now, the group is meeting in a space at Holy Cross Faith Memorial Episcopal Church, which is affirming. It’s actively looking for another space to meet, because the organization understands that a church can be a trigger for those who’ve experienced religious trauma. The location is being offered to PFLAG for free, and the group doesn’t currently have the resources to pay to rent a space. The group also has access to police protection at meetings, if needed.

It plans to fundraise in the spring to create scholarships for students who have been kicked out of their homes. 

The December meeting will focus on pronouns and other LGBTQ-related vocabulary. Adult supporters in Charleston, Georgetown and Horry counties are invited to attend.

“Whether or not you have a kid who is gay or not, whether you know your kid is gay or not, you live in a world with kids that are gay, and as a parent, I want all kids to have the same access to safety, freedom of expression that my straight kids have, and I think we should all want that, and I think we should all want our schools to do a better at protecting all kids,” Barnett said. 

PFLAG meeting at 7 p.m. on the third Monday of each month at the bottom floor of the Holy Cross Faith Memorial Episcopal Church’s offices. People have to be at least 18 years old to attend.

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