David Stocum grew up in upstate New York during the 1970s thinking that he was the only gay person in his town of 2,000.
“That mindset is still prevalent today,” he said from his home in Thief River Falls.
His experience is one reason that Stocum hopes to organize a PFLAG national chapter in Thief River Falls. A meeting is set for 1 p.m. March 22 at the Thief River Falls public library to form an organization that was formerly known as the Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays. It was created 42 years ago.
“PFLAG, because it was founded by parents and allies, is a good place to start because it creates a broad base,” Stocum said. “It prides itself on being grassroots.”
If Stocum is successful, it would become the only chapter in the northern half of the state, which legalized same-sex marriage in August. According to PFLAG’S web site, Minnesota’s chapters are in Anoka, Mankato, Marshall, Morris, Red Wing, St. Cloud and Minneapolis. North Dakota does not have any chapters, according to the website. Grand Forks and Fargo has other support groups for gay people, including the 10 Percent Society at UND and Fargo-Moorhead Pride.
“We look at a chapter as a start at building a support system and a sense of community for LGBT (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender),” Stocum said. “You can come to a meeting without outing yourself. If someone sees you going to an event, you’re not necessarily a gay person.
“It proves a safe environment for folks who are not openly gay.”
Stocum said community members have been accepting of him and his partner, Richard Scramstad, since they moved to Thief River Falls six months ago. Others have had a different experience, he said.
Typically, Stocum said, residents in larger cities are more open to the LGBT community than in smaller, more rural communities. Another potential hurdle can be religious denominations.
“During the marriage equality debate, there was a lot of tension between the faith and LGBT communities,” Stocum said. “We want to get past that.”