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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 17, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 51
PFLAG pioneer Adele Starr dies at 90
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PFLAG pioneer Adele Starr dies at 90

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Adele Starr, founder and first national president of PFLAG, died December 10 at the age of 90.

'Adele Starr was one of the pioneers of PFLAG. It is because of her commitment to organizing the many people who were working for the common goal of equality for all into the organization that we now know as PFLAG that we have gained the strength, prominence, and ability to become the voice of parents and allies united for equality,' said Jody M. Huckaby, PFLAG National's executive director.

Starr's Gay rights activism began in 1974, when her second son, Philip, told his parents he was Gay.

Although the Gay rights movement was well underway by then, 'being Gay was still seen as a mental illness,' Philip Starr recalled.

'And parenting was often blamed as the cause,' he said. 'So parents really felt bad - they felt like they were bad parents.'

Adele was upset, so Philip directed her to a local support group.

Later that year, Adele and her husband Larry had dinner with PFLAG founder Jeanne Manford and her husband Jules.

After a year of working to encourage attendance, Starr hosted an initial meeting of 35 people in her Los Angeles home.

In 1976, Starr founded the Los Angeles PFLAG chapter.

At first, the group continued to meet at her home, but it expanded quickly and soon began meeting at a Methodist church in Westwood, where families still meet today.

'Initially the impulse was that the group was really important to her because she wanted parents not to suffer like she had - not to be isolated, to have a place to go,' said Philip.

Over the years, hundreds of families came and went. In the early days, the meetings were 'almost like an AA format,' Philip said. Some members even declined to reveal their true names.

'As she got more involved, she realized how oppressive the environment was. She really became an activist,' Philip recalled.

In 1979, Adele spoke on the steps of the US Capitol at the first national march for Gay rights - a seminal event often credited with uniting a then-nascent movement.

In 1981, 31 representatives from PFLAG-like groups again came together in the Starr's home for a two-day meeting resulting in the official founding of national PFLAG.

Adele Starr was elected PFLAG's first national president.

She served in that capacity until 1986, but until her death she remained a forceful advocate for civil rights and, in later years, for the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Starr served at the helm of PFLAG during the onset of the AIDS crisis, said her longtime friend and collaborator Terry DeCrescenzo, founder of GLASS (Gay and Lesbian Adolescent Social Services).

'In that time, a lot of us lost hope,' DeCrescenzo said. 'Not Adele. And PFLAG became enormously important because it was rock solid. & She was a good woman. She'll be missed.'

In 1995, Adele publicly denounced a slate of conservative candidates trying to wrest control of an Antelope Valley school board. The group had declared Gay relationships invalid.

Three years later, in a letter to The L.A. Times, the Starrs wrote that Philip was a devoted father, a successful businessman, and a taxpayer and deserved the 'same rights and freedoms as others,' including the right to 'legally marry the one he loves.'

'We cannot understand those arrogant people who have decided that a heterosexual lifestyle must be imposed on everyone and that they have a monopoly on morality,' Adele wrote. 'The American way is respect for diversity with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.'

Adele was born in Brooklyn, New York, on February 10, 1920.

She was originally named Ida Seltzer, but she never liked her first name and changed it to Adele as a teenager.

In 1941 she married Lawrence Starr, an accountant. She lived in the New York area through the end of World War II, in which her brother, an Air Force bombardier, was killed in action.

In 1951, the Starrs visited a relative in the Los Angeles area and took to the region immediately, drawn largely by the weather.

They soon settled in Brentwood, California, where Adele Starr helped her husband establish a private accounting practice.

She was primarily a stay-at-home mother. The Starrs had four sons and a daughter.

Only Philip Starr turned out to be Gay. He is now married to Michael Simengal. They have been together since 1974 and have a 19-year-old son.

PFLAG now has some 200,000 members and 500 affiliates around the world. The group has since added Transgender people to its mission, and its acronym now stands for Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

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