Thursday, May 31, 2012

We Have Pride in June


It’s become a rite of spring.  Every mid-June going back decades, June Horner gathers her PFLAG buttons and placards from her Sykesville, Md. home and stuffs them into the already cramped trunk of her car.  She needs to move around several hundred PFLAG and safe-school pamphlets as well as other LGBT literature to allow space for the signs, which she always takes with her to the Capital Pride (Washington, D.C.) and Baltimore Pride parades. 

Typically, the sign June and her husband Graham hoist up at these events reads: “Our Kids are Fine—Just the Way They Are.”  But there are others she will employ too, depending on the event and the message she wants to convey.  Often, June can be seen at Lobby Day rallies or other parades raising the familiar “Civil Marriage is a Civil Right” placard or a “Someone You Love is Gay” bumper sticker.

June is a recognizable figure.  Usually donned in a “I’m a PFLAG Mom” tee-shirt or similar PFLAG garb, khaki shorts, a pink HRC cap or straw hat with an assortment of LGBT-related buttons, and a fanny pack, June Horner, who is in her early seventies, crams more energy in her small frame than most Generation Y folks—one of the primary groups she has been fighting for when it comes to LGBT rights and equality.

And come this June 16, she will be even more recognizable. June Horner has been named unanimously by the Baltimore Pride Committee to be the parade’s Grand Marshal—an honor that has been traditionally reserved for city leaders and pioneers in the LGBT rights movement.

“June Horner has been to every single Baltimore Pride parade,” Donald Young, Parade Committee Chair explained to Baltimore OUTloud.  “Her outstanding work in PFLAG and her belief that every human being should be treated equally and based on character, not on sexual orientation were the reasons June was selected.”

June is modest and humble about her numerous accomplishments, and this was no exception.  “I am pleased beyond measure or words to be chosen for this honor.”

Her work for LGBT equality began nearly three decades ago upon learning that her youngest son, Mark was gay.  “Back in 1984 we quickly became aware of the existence of a frightening, horrible amount of misunderstanding and discrimination against LGB individuals and community,” June noted.  “Transgender wasn’t even on the radar.”

She was struck by the fact that because her son is gay, he would be discriminated against and treated worse than her other children. “I felt I simply had no choice other than jump in and try to get involved to tell the world as best I could within whatever limited capacities I might have, that good people are being misunderstood and hurt and THIS HAS GOT TO STOP.  And this has been my passion and my purpose for over 25 years now… and counting.”

Realizing that families suffer from the same pain and injustice that their LGBT members experience, June discovered PFLAG—Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays—that same year.  “The pain of parents and families who feel powerless as they watch the suffering of their LGBT loved ones is exquisite and intense,” June says.  “Any parent can attest to the feeling: ‘If I could only bear the pain for my child. If I could only make it better.’  Helplessly watching loved ones suffer somehow seems to increase the pain exponentially.” 

PFLAG is a place where parents, friends and family members are empowered to work together with the LGBT community to create change, as June put it, “one heart at a time.” Back then there were a relatively small number of chapters.  “I was inspired by the work of those who had come before me, and was emboldened (because I would not be working alone) to make a start toward creating change by doing those things that PFLAG does best—support, education and advocacy.”

June’s recollection of the AIDS crisis is profound.  “When I became involved in mid- 1980’s, ARC soon-to-be called AIDS was decimating the gay community.  Funerals were happening every week.  PFLAG families were banding together to support and attempt to be spokespersons to educate the general public.  It seemed the Federal Government was doing nothing and really didn’t care.  Those were heartbreaking and exhausting times. Thank goodness, we’ve come a long way… but still much work to be done.”

June started a PFLAG chapter in Baltimore in 1985, and it began well.  But after the first year there was a decreasing involvement from the city’s parents.  Other subsequent attempts to establish a chapter failed to catch on, so currently there is none in Baltimore.

Undaunted, PFLAG reached into the suburbs.  In 1994 June was a founding member of the Columbia-Howard County chapter that was started by Colette Roberts and Linda Linton.  And she continues to be a vital member of the chapter today.  June has been on the steering committee since its inception and currently serves as the chapter’s treasurer and librarian as well as any other function for which she feels she can help.  June is also a popular speaker before employee, community and LGBT groups. 

And she is one fierce advocate.  Always telling her story to elected officials either at Lobby Day or some other event, June consistently impresses.  She has testified in front of legislative committees in an effort to move the marriage equality bill along.  Republican Senator Allen Kittleman credits June along with other PFLAG advocates for helping him see the light in supporting marriage equality.  She was on hand to witness Governor O’Malley’s signing the bill into law in March, and she later hugged him for his efforts.

 Marching in Baltimore Pride Parade in 1986
Recognizing the need for an LGBT support group in conservative Carroll County, June along with other concerned county residents helped establish a PFLAG chapter in Westminster in 2011.  She sits on their steering committee as well.

June Horner began marching in Baltimore’s Pride Parade in 1986.  “I am truly proud of my gay son, and I was and continue to be ready to tell the world!!” she beams.  “I’m proud of every son and daughter of our fabulous community.”

She has marched in countless pride parades over the years in D.C., Baltimore, New York, San Francisco and Philadelphia.  “Marching in pride parades is the easy and fun part,” June points out.  “Not so easy but most essential is changing the law.  Old discriminatory laws needed to be changed.  New civil rights and protections need to be added.”

June acknowledges that we’ve come a long way but we’re not done yet. “Now we’re preparing for the referendum which will surely come. And we’ll be trying our best to spread the word to Vote FOR the Maryland Civil Marriage Protection Act in the November election.”

This tireless PFLAG Mom has been the quintessential ally, and the LGBT community of Baltimore and beyond should be eternally grateful as she has dedicated the past two and a half decades passionately fighting for the cause.

As we approach yet another Pride Parade, June won’t have to march this time; she can ride, right up front. 

Cheer her on!

3 comments:

Eric Crossley said...

Fantastic and kudos and many thanks to June for all her work and dedication! She is an amazing person and I am so happy to see her honored at Baltimore Pride! Thanks June!

Jay Loane said...

Nice piece Steve. I feel as if I know her though I don't. But she is a remarkable lady!

Rob Lance said...

Steve, it's about time someone spotlighted June Horner. I'm glad it was you. No one could have done it better. This is a really excellent piece about a person who has worked with unbelievable energy for so long to help achieve equal rights for the LGBT community. I consider it an honor to have worked with her. I have rarely seen such determination and energy in working toward a goal.

You're right! Generation Y (and all of us for tht matter) should be seriously grateful to June for what she's done over these many years and be inspired by her dedication to get off their butts and work for their equality. If each of us could just muster a tenth of the energy that June puts forth, we'd be winners.

Sadly, we'll see most of that potential energy used up in Pride partying instead.


Thanks, Steve!