In The Spotlight: Ann & Jim Surles and Their PFLAG Journey

By Masha-Leah Dinah

Ann and Jim’s journey with PFLAG began in 1986 when their 24-year old son revealed to them that he was gay. This was not a revelation for himself, and he went on to explain that he had known from a very young age that he was somehow “different”. Having been raised in a very conservative religious community, he felt he could not have come out before his family for fear that no one, even his family, could understand him and how his orientation would impact his family relationship.

For a few years they dwelt on restoring his understanding of their love for him and comforting him with his open living of his true authentic self. Ultimately, they realized that they had to educate themselves on their son’s orientation and what the future might hold for him. Ann took the initiative to reach out to a PFLAG member in another state inquiring about PFLAG and if there was a local chapter in Ft. Worth. Not finding a local chapter, they sought out local family opportunities for counseling and found a group of families with LGBTQiA+ children conducted by a professional who operated a sexuality education center. Ultimately, having learned of the Dallas PFLAG and the Regional Director of PFLAG, they made the decision in 1991 to form a local Ft. Worth-based PFLAG with the help of a few families from the local counseling group they were attending. By the time that all of the preliminary requirements of the national PFLAG Office were met, they had a nucleus of families that joined and regularly attended the monthly meetings. Their newly-formed chapter rapidly grew over the next few years.

Their next venture of love was to get their chapter involved in PrideFest and Coming Out Day Activities. Initially, they joined Denton, Waco, and some representatives from East Texas in marching in the Dallas huge PrideFest Parade and participating in their Coming Out Day activities. But, as their own Ft. Worth Chapter grew in membership, they started their own local parade and other activities. As their growth continued, they began to work with the AIDS Outreach Buddy Program serving dinner to residents with AIDS that lived at the Samaritan House in Ft. Worth. And they also worked with AIDS Outreach in helping host the AIDS quilt that was displayed in Ft. Worth.

Their Ft. Worth Chapter continued to flourish and grow, and Jim served as the founding President and Ann as Facilitator and Refreshment Hostess until their move to Abilene, TX in 1999. Since there was no local the Abilene PFLAG Chapter, they used the knowledge they gained about various orientations and gender differences in those early years and, with a few interested families, applied their previous experience to form the Abilene PFLAG Chapter. They partnered with the Lubbock TX Chapter in the beginning and ultimately saw more families braving the conservative atmosphere of West Texas and joining their Lubbock Chapter. Jim also worked in the local Abilene AIDS Outreach Center in their food pantry as he had previously done in Ft. Worth. However the atmosphere in Abilene reflected the West Texas conservatism and people’s participation was done in a more closeted manner.

After three years, they moved from Abilene to Cedar Park TX but did not get involved in PFLAG again until 2003 when they learned of a monthly Central Austin PFLAG chapter held at the Trinity United Methodist Church. The Chapter was small and their President, Bob Parsons, was having challenge reaching families of LGBTQiA+ children. This was partly due to the location and the facility not being well suited to adequately host refreshments. After a year in this facility, the families agreed that a more favorable location could help them grow the Chapter. So they relocated the Chapter to a Church in Cedar Park that offered well lighted facilities and a large kitchen area that allowed them to expand their educational opportunities and serve a large uninformed community. It worked and the move helped the Cedar Park Chapter grow by leaps and bounds. As the chapter grew, a core of hard working members went above and beyond the call of duty to build PFLAG Floats for the Pride Parade, marching in AIDS Walks, working at different events sponsored by local colleges, manning tables at local Austin businesses in diversity celebration days, and much more.

The Chapter’s growth pattern continued for a couple of years when an enthusiastic group of people in South Austin saw the need for that part of Travis County to have their very own PFLAG Chapter. And Joe Farley and his enthusiastic group of members, this Chapter also experienced large growth. And, in the past few years, another PFLAG Chapter was established in Georgetown.

It is clear that Ann and Jim were very involved because of the love of their son and to help other parents of LGBTQiA+ children. And they deserve all of our praise for doing so and making the world a better place.