Allies are born when their love is unconditional. For Joan Gale, 59 years young and a straight parent, her son’s coming out in middle school was a moment of great change. Seeing her own child confront the struggles that LGBTQ youth face in Cabarrus County and around the world, Gale was determined to do her part. She founded the Concord/Kannapolis chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) in 2014, after retiring from her career as a school counselor. The chapter has grown, connecting with the national organization promote LGBTQ support and progress. Gale and her husband attended the PFLAG National Convention in 2016, the same year that she received the PFLAG Advocacy Award. Her chapter meets monthly at Trinity Church of Christ in Concord, provides meals for the Cabarrus Time Out Youth Center satellite organization, and advocates for LGBTQ rights through various avenues. A true ally, Gale has dedicated her golden years to working for change and support for her son, and the community she loves.
In what ways did you have to evolve as a person when your son came out as gay?
My passion for the LGBTQ community took root in our gay son’s adolescent years while in Cabarrus County Schools. He came out to me in middle school and then began a life of wanting to move away from this area due to discrimination and biases he witnessed while in his community and schools…My excitement of starting a PFLAG chapter in 2014 and being president challenged some of my friends and family members in our relationship. As I opened up to them about my support of the LGBTQ community, they pulled away due to their own beliefs. Today, I realize there are many sacrifices when you are committed to a cause and a purpose, some of which may include losing friends and risking familial relationships.
Aside from LGBTQ community work, are you passionate about any other political causes?
[Sex education]. As a member of the Community Advisory Council (CAC) for Cabarrus Health Alliance, I reiterate that LGBTQ sex education needs to be included in the North Carolina health and sex education curriculum. The CAC network of leaders presents a platform for me to educate those who may have little understanding about the LGBTQ community.
How does your experience as a school counselor influence your approach to LGBTQ issues?
Having grown up myself in Cabarrus County, I developed a passion for the LGBTQ youth while our son was in high school and college. As a school counselor, I could relate to parents’ and students’ struggles. I worked in Cabarrus County in the educational sector as a teacher and a school counselor for 36 years; I witnessed and helped LGBTQ students who had been teased, taunted and ridiculed for simply being themselves …This, along with sensing a need for resources for LGBTQ families like my own, created a desire to start a PFLAG chapter in my community. When I first retired in 2013, my goal was to create a safe space for the LGBTQ community, its allies and advocates.
What are your hobbies, or activities that give you joy?
When we are home, we enjoy working around the house, watching movies, and seeing nature from our front porch.
Who are key people in your support system?
A key supporter and encourager is my husband, Don Gale, who has walked this journey with me.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
[We] look forward to being a part of Charlotte Pride this August…We plan to enjoy travel adventures to Alaska, Central America and other destinations not yet on our list.
Why is it important for a group like PFLAG to exist, both nationally and in the Concord/Kannapolis area?
Cabarrus County needs to be intentional in providing spaces and resources for LGBTQ folks…Both locally and nationally, PFLAG strives to support families, allies and people who are LGBTQ. We educate at each monthly meeting by providing speakers, panels and resources about unique issues and challenges facing the LGBTQ community. We advocate to change attitudes, create policies and laws that achieve full equality for people who are LGBTQ. My favorite mission is for the LGBTQ youth in our county to have full access to all their rights; therefore, our PFLAG chapter ensures that each high school provides a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) or a similar support system.