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PFLAG and Pride Parade founder is still advocating

The first Pride Parade in Spokane was in 1992, started by Helen Bonser, whose daughter Terri is gay, and Marion Dumotin, who has a gay son.

Helen Bonser of Veradale UCC was grand marshal, leading the 2016 PRIDE Parade. Photo courtesy of Gen Heywood

Helen, who is now a member of Veradale UCC, and Marion had founded the local Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) after Terri told her in 1981 that she was in love with the woman friend she had brought to Easter dinner,

“I was shocked as much as any parent.  I was ignorant and afraid of what would happen to her when she came out to others, but when she told others, she was accepted,” said Helen.

“I went ‘into the closet’ as a parent and would not talk about it,” she said.

Katy Urbana, who had started PFLAG chapters in Kansas and California, started one in Spokane when she moved here.  Helen went in 1984.

“I had always been an advocate for justice and I needed the knowledge that PFLAG gave me,” she said.

Helen has advocated on the local, state and national level.

“I always say I’m glad my daughter is gay, because otherwise I would not have met so many wonderful people who have enriched my life and who have appreciated what I have done,” she said.

At the first Pride Parade, in which 500 participated, people came from Seattle and Montana, Canada and Oregon.  They walked along the sidewalks, many were afraid and there were threats.  Some wore sacks over their heads, so they wouldn’t be seen and recognized by someone from work or someone they knew.

A man on a bicycle saw her Pride T-shirt, he said he would go home and get his gun.  Police detained him.  When she returned home, her house was egged.

“I washed it off with pride,” said Helen, who appreciates now being in the UCC, which has stood for justice for centuries.

When TV and newspapers interviewed Helen, she told them, “This is not the only time you will hear from us.  We will keep marching until GLBT people have full human rights.”

Spokane’s march, she said, has been a family event, not a political or commercial one.  It’s for families, friends and allies as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

“Today, instead of there being hundreds in the march, thousands participate, marching on the streets.  After the march, there is a Pride Festival in Riverfront Park with booths, including ones with Westminster and Veradale.  It’s not the people who make threats who are brave, but the people who march under the threat of danger are the ones who are brave.

Last year, she and her daughters were grand marshals of Spokane’s Pride Parade.

Born in Bend and raised in Northern California, Helen said her husband was in the military.  They lived in four states and many countries of Europe. He retired in Spokane in 1975.

She joined Emmanuel Metropolitan Community Church in 1987, and after it closed about 2010, she joined Veradale UCC in 2011.

Through the years, she has advocated educated other families to understand that people are born GLBT. It’s genetic, not a choice, she said.  She is glad that media today also help build understanding.

She has also advocated for marriage equality and other policies at the federal and state levels.

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Pacific Northwest Conference UCC News © Summer 2017


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