Special Issues » Pride

History-making honor for longtime allies

by Brian Bromberger

Sam and Julia Thoron received SF Pride's Jose Julio<br>Sarria History Maker Award. Photo: Brian Bromberger
Sam and Julia Thoron received SF Pride's Jose Julio
Sarria History Maker Award. Photo: Brian Bromberger  

For many parents in 1990, hearing their son or daughter was gay would have been a shock, perhaps eliciting anger, regret, or guilt. These feelings of remorse were not the reaction of Sam Thoron and his wife, Julia, when their daughter Liz informed them she was a lesbian.

"When Liz came out we realized she had not changed, that she is the same wonderful human being she was before she shared the information with us," Sam Thoron said. "At the same time we did not know what being a lesbian really meant for her in her life, nor what having a lesbian daughter would mean for our lives."

The Thorons figured there must be a group that could help them become more informed, so they joined the San Francisco chapter of PFLAG (formerly Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), initially as support for themselves.

"Not long after, we came to the realization that support meant support for our daughter in a hostile world. Supporting her meant we needed to make a commitment to advocacy," the couple said.

The Thorons' long-standing involvement in PFLAG and their support of equal rights for all is being recognized by the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee board of directors, which named them recipients of the Jose Julio Sarria History Maker Award.

Sam Thoron, 75, said he was asked from time to time "to do things outside of my comfort zone, like making speaking appearances and public statements for TV."

"Each time I had to ask myself if I cared about equal treatment for my daughter," he explained. "The answer is always 'yes.' I really never had any other choice but to go ahead and do what I was asked to do."

Starting in 1992, Sam Thoron served on PFLAG's national board for nine years, then after a brief sabbatical became national president for four years and a member at large for another five-year stint. He has now retired from the organization.

"Service on the board has been the most challenging and the most rewarding assignment I have ever undertaken," he said. "Attempting to effect social change is always interesting. Progress is often halting, at best."

The couple was the public face of the No on 8 campaign in 2008, when they were featured in the first television commercial urging people to vote against Proposition 8, the state's now-overturned same-sex marriage ban.

When asked if the mission of PFLAG has changed in 25 years, Sam Thoron said that in 1990 the organization was focused primarily on gay and lesbian issues.

"The organization and its mission have evolved over time," he said. "We have gradually broadened our focus to be much more inclusive, first with bi and then to trans people. Now we include the variety of orientations and the spectrum of gender identity, advocating full equality and safety for all."

While observing that acceptance about coming out is now much easier than in the past, it can still be challenging today.

"Many have been socialized to believe that being LGBT is not a good thing," Sam Thoron said. "The family member coming out rarely expects the revelation will be received as good news. For many, it is just not in the script. Abandoning the script can be wrenching. There are still wide varieties of communities in which being LGBT remains unacceptable."

Even with the likely legalization of same-sex marriage in all 50 states, the Thorons still see many areas in which LGBTs have not yet secured equal treatment, so continued advocacy and education for full equality is needed.

The Thorons advise parents who learn that their child is LGBT to check out PFLAG.

"Always remember that your child has not changed," the couple said. "They have just told you a bit more about who they really are. This is a gift and an indication of trust."

Their daughter, Liz Thoron, is thrilled for the distinguished honor bestowed on her parents.

"I feel their PFLAG work, although I was the catalyst for their involvement, was not in the end, about me, but about the kind of people they are," she said.

Ultimately, the Thorons see no real difference between straight folks and LGBTs.

"We are all birds on the same branch," they said. "We need to look at our similarities rather than our differences. We need to share our humanity at every level."

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