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Adele Starr dies at 90;
unflagging gay-rights activist
When her son came out in 1974, homosexuality was seen 'as a mental illness … and parenting was often blamed.' Starr helped launch a support group for families that pushes for civil rights and marriage equality.
Adele Starr, a Brentwood mother of five who overcame dismay at her son's homosexuality to become a leading voice for gay rights and marriage equality, has died. She was 90.
Starr died in her sleep Friday at Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, where she had been convalescing after surgery, said her son Philip Starr.
In 1976, Starr founded the Los Angeles chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, a gay rights and acceptance organization known then as Parent FLAG, now as PFLAG.
In 1979, she spoke on the steps of the U.S. Capitol at a march for gay rights — a seminal event often credited with uniting a then-nascent movement.
Two years later, she became PFLAG's first national president; she served in that capacity until 1986 and remained a forceful advocate for civil rights and, in later years, for the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Starr served at the helm of PFLAG during the onset of the AIDS crisis, said her longtime friend and collaborator Terry DeCrescenzo, founder of another advocacy group formed to reach out to gay and lesbian youth.
"In that time, a lot of us lost hope," said DeCrescenzo, 66, of Studio City. "Not Adele. And PFLAG became enormously important because it was rock solid.... She was a good woman. She'll be missed."
She was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Feb. 10, 1920, as Ida Seltzer, the daughter of an accountant and a homemaker. She never fancied her first name and changed it to Adele as a teenager.
In 1941 she married Lawrence Starr, an accountant. She remained mostly in the New York area through the end of World War II, in which her husband served as an Army translator and her brother, an Air Force bombardier, was killed in action.
In 1951, the Starrs visited a relative in the Los Angeles area and took to the region immediately, drawn largely by the weather. They soon settled in Brentwood, where Adele Starr helped her husband establish a private accounting practice.
She was primarily a stay-at-home mother. The Starrs had four sons and a daughter.
In 1974, Philip Starr, the couple's second son, sat his parents down and told them he was gay. Although the gay rights movement was well underway by then, he recalled, "being gay was still seen as a mental illness."
"And parenting was often blamed as the cause," Philip Starr said. "So parents really felt bad — they felt like they were bad parents."
His mother was upset, so Philip Starr directed her to a support group of sorts that eventually evolved into PFLAG.
Two years later, Adele Starr launched the Los Angeles chapter of PFLAG, modeled loosely after an existing group in New York. The group met first at her home but expanded quickly and soon began meeting at a Methodist church in Westwood, where families still meet today. Over the years, hundreds of families came and went.
"Initially the impulse was that the group was really important to her because she wanted parents not to suffer like she had — not to be isolated, to have a place to go," said Philip Starr, who has been with his now-husband, Michael Simengal, since 1974. The couple has a 19-year-old son.
In the early days, the meetings were "almost like an AA format," Philip Starr said. Some members even declined to reveal their true names. "As she got more involved, she realized how oppressive the environment was. She really became an activist," Philip Starr said.
In 1995, for instance, Adele Starr publicly lambasted a slate of conservatives trying to wrest control of an Antelope Valley school board; the group harbored a deep suspicion of multiculturalism and had declared gay relationships invalid.
Three years later, in a letter to The Times, the Starrs wrote that Philip was a devoted father and a successful businessman and taxpayer and deserved the "same rights and freedoms as others," including the right to "legally marry the one he loves."
"We cannot understand those arrogant people who have decided that a heterosexual lifestyle must be imposed on everyone and that they have a monopoly on morality," she wrote. "The American way is respect for diversity with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Over time, Adele Starr's activism eclipsed that of her son; he recalled with a chuckle that she often had to remind him to pay his PFLAG dues.
She appeared at numerous conferences where, among other things, she preached her unyielding belief that sexual orientation was determined at birth.
DeCrescenzo said she'd developed a more nuanced view — that orientation was often the result of a combination of genetics and social learning. When DeCrescenzo proffered that view at conferences, she recalled that Starr often sneaked into the room to scold her in front of audiences: "That's just not true!"
"That she brooked no disagreement is simply, to me, a measure of the powerful commitment that mother love brings," DeCrescenzo said.
PFLAG is now a Washington-based nonprofit group with 200,000 members and supporters and 500 affiliates around the world. The group has since added transgender people to its mission, and its acronym now stands for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
She is survived by her husband, Larry; sons William, Philip, Robert and Andrew; daughter Margo Scoble; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles
PFLAG Los Angeles mourns the passing of Lawrence (Larry) Starr
Lawrence (Larry) Starr passed away on December 30 just a few days short of his 97th birthday. Larry was a founder of PFLAG Los Angeles along with his wife, Adele. Together they made a formidable team, committed to changing the local and national dialog about LGBTQ persons.
Fiery Adele became the president of PFLAG Los Angeles and, along with Jeanne Manford, the face of the parents' support movement. Larry was with her every step of the way, acting as accountant for the fledgling organization. In 1978, he appeared with Adele and their son Philip on Good Morning America during the Week of Dialog with American Families. Like Adele, he wrote letters to politicians, reporters, and columnists--notably to the segregationist and homophobic James Kilpatrick, who made vicious remarks about LGBTQ persons on the Point Counterpoint segment of Sixty Minutes.
In 1981, the Starrs opened their home to leaders of 20 similar parent organizations from all over the country. This conference that lead to the creation of the PFLAG National, a federation of local chapters which gave parents a voice at the highest levels of government. Larry drafted the incorporation papers and acted as the Chief Financial Officer of the new organization.
He and Adele were active members in the chapter until Adele stepped down as president in 1994. Both remained interested in the chapter's activities. After Adele's death, Larry continued to talk with officers and members of the board well into his nineties.
The influence that Larry and Adele Starr had on the LGBTQ rights movement was enormous. Of equal importance is the positive impact they have had on thousands of LGBTQ persons and family members who have found support and encouragement at PFLAG Los Angeles over its 40 year history.
Can Change the World
It is with great sorrow that we share with all of you the passing of PFLAG's founder, Jeanne Manford.
From PFLAG National Executive Director,
Today the world has lost a pioneer: Jeanne Manford, the founder of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and the Mother of the Straight Ally movement.
Jeanne was one of the fiercest fighters in the battle for acceptance and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. It is truly humbling to imagine in 1972 - just 40 years ago - a simple schoolteacher started this movement of family and ally support, without benefit of any of the technology that today makes a grassroots movement so easy to organize. No Internet. No cellphones. Just a deep love for her son and a sign reading “Parents of Gays: Unite in Support for Our Children.”
This simple and powerful message of love and acceptance from one person resonated so strongly it was heard by millions of people worldwide and led to the founding of PFLAG, an organization with more than 350 chapters across the U.S. and 200,000 members and supporters, and the creation of similar organizations across the globe.
Jeanne’s work was called “the story of America…of ordinary citizens organizing, agitating, educating for change, of hope stronger than hate, of love more powerful than any insult or injury,” in a speech by President Barack Obama in 2009.
All of us - people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and straight allies alike - owe Jeanne our gratitude. We are all beneficiaries of her courage. Jeanne Manford proved the power of a single person to transform the world. She paved the way for us to speak out for what is right, uniting the unique parent, family, and ally voice with the voice of LGBT people everywhere.
A private interment service will be held and details of a later celebration of Jeanne Manford’s life and legacy will be announced. The family requests that any donations be made to the Jeanne Manford Legacy Fund to support the ongoing work of PFLAG National: 1828 L Street, NW, Suite 660, Washington, DC 20036.
A graduate of the Univ. of Illinois College of Engineering (1986), George’s career began with Westinghouse – Energy Sales (Chicago) immediately after receiving his undergraduate degree. A few years later he relocated with Westinghouse to Orlando, FL, and resided there until 1996, when he moved to Los Angeles, CA for a new venture with a Tech Startup company. In 2000 George opted for an early retirement, to spend time with his family, in addition to traveling the world, something he truly loved doing.
George was a well-rounded individual exposed to diverse cultures and a variety of hobbies/sports at a tender age. He truly enjoyed the games of golf & tennis, was an accomplished pianist and had a never-ending appreciation for the Arts (Broadway Shows, Musical Theatre, Operas & Symphonies). George was a gentle and kindhearted soul, who constantly sought ways to contribute or help his neighbor.
During his period of retirement, George dedicated his time to many non-profit organizations, including PFLAG, Lifeworks Mentoring and Gompers Preparatory Academy. George also founded The Multicultural Computer Academy (San Diego, CA), a computer camp held annually to expose the less fortunate (children) to computers and technology.
George was a member of many clubs and professional organizations; the Royal Dornoch Golf Club (Scotland), The Quarry (La Quinta, CA), Caves Valley Golf Club (Owing Mills, MD), Lakeside Golf Club (Burbank, CA), the Los Angeles Tennis Club (Los Angeles, CA) and the United States Golf Association
George had a unique touch on the lives of everyone who had an opportunity to meet him; we will tremendously miss his spirit, grace and radiating smile.
PFLAG Los Angeles Mourns the Death of Past President George Unger
Memories from PFLAG Los Angeles Presidents
Contribute your own memories on George’s FaceBook Wall
or on PFLAG Los Angeles FaceBook Wall
President & Co-President (2007-Present)
The first person I ever met at a PFLAG Los Angeles meeting was George Unger. I was scared, entering a new world about which I knew only a little—all of it bad. Standing at the door was a smiling, warm, handsome young man who welcomed my husband and me enthusiastically and gave us a name tag. One look at George and I said to myself, “If that’s what gay men are like, maybe things aren’t so bad.” When we left at the end of the meeting, he called “Please come back.”
We did. I had the opportunity to sit in the support circle and hear him talk about how much PFLAG had helped him come out to his parents, who loved him unconditionally but knew as little about being gay as I did. He was committed to making sure that PFLAG Los Angeles would be there for other LGBT individuals like him and other moms and dads like me and his parents. He served on the board of our chapter for five years, and then was president/co-president from 2000 to 20006.
George invited me to my first PFLAG board meeting. When it was over, I was secretary. He invited me to come and listen to a panel from the PFLAG Los Angeles Speakers Bureau at a local high school. I was planning to sit in the audience, but I wound up in the front of the classroom with the panelists telling my own story. He got me to go to facilitator’s training, and at the next meeting handed me the rules and guidelines and left me in charge of circle number two. He said to me one day, “You’d make a great chapter president.” Now I’ve been president for almost four years.
That was George, persuasive in the most gentle and persistent way. I couldn’t say no to him because of all the hard work he put into sustaining and growing the chapter. When I arrived at PFLAG Los Angeles he was a strong, guiding presence who helped a lot of newbie volunteers find their feet and learn what to do.
For all the time and energy he put into PFLAG Los Angeles, he supported other groups, too. He was a board member of Lifeworks Mentoring, which has grown and grown into a major youth program of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. He was always working on behalf of the LGBT community.
George grew up in Morton Grove, Illinois, just a few miles away from my hometown of Park Ridge. One year when his parents visited, he asked my husband and me to lunch with them. It was an honor to meet them. Like their son, they were warm-hearted, unpretentiously good people. Toward the end of the lunch, I told them how much George and his work at PFLAG had meant to me. He changed my life. I said, “On behalf of all the PFLAG parents and members, I want to thank George for everything he’s done. We owe him a debt of gratitude none of us will ever be able to repay.”
I am so grateful now that I got a chance to tell them that. To George’s wonderful partner Neil, to his mother and family, and to all his friends, everyone at PFLAG Los Angeles offers our deepest sympathy. We share in your sorrow.
George, you’ll be in our hearts at every PFLAG Los Angeles meeting continuing your work.
Steve Krantz / President & Co-President (2004-2007)
When I joined the LA chapter in the Fall of 2003, George Unger was the Co-President, leading each meeting. To me, he was always the smartest person in the room - calm leadership, wise counsel. I admired him greatly. His contributions to LGBT support, education and advocacy will be sorely missed.
Larry and Lynette Sperber / Co-Presidents (1997-2000)
Dear, sweet, special George. It has been an honor and a privilege to call you our friend. Larry and I will always treasure the times we shared with you. You were infinitely generous, kind, fun, funny, thoughtful, smart and loving. As President of PFLAG/LA you worked tirelessly and graciously, always willing to go the extra distance and do whatever needed to be done. A special light went out when you left us. We are heartbroken and saddened that we won't have the pleasure of your company. We wish you godspeed and peace, dear friend. Rest well.
Peggy Olson / President (1995 -1997)
What an immense shock to hear of our dear George Unger’s passing. He was a man of great compassion and talent who gave of himself so willingly to PFLAG-LA. While he was President, he often stayed in the background giving credit to the parents, when actually HE was the one diligently and tirelessly working behind the scenes. He will long be remembered.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in memory of George Michael Unger
to one of the following charities:
PFLAG Los Angeles
Gompers Preparatory Academy
David Bregman 1938-2013
Long-time PFLAG Los Angeles supporter and Board Member David Bregman passed away on June 17, his fifty-first wedding anniversary. David and his wife Nicky came to PFLAG to support their LGBT daughter Eve. They became regulars at our monthly meetings, where Nicky would often facilitate groups. Ultimately, they became staunch board members over several years. Early in the struggle for marriage equality, David, Nicky and their daughter participated in a ground breaking television documentary following three LGBT couples through their engagement and commitment ceremonies. Unfortunately, David did not live to see this work come to fruition in the Supreme Court decisions announced June 26.
He was born in Montreal, Canada to a working class family, where he was exposed by his father to activism at an early age. A factory worker, Solomon Bregman was very involved in the Workman's Circle movement. His family immigrated to Los Angeles when David was 11. An excellent student, he was admitted to Cal Tech at age 16 to study physics, ultimately earning a BS degree there and a MS at the University of Hawaii. He found his career in the aerospace industry, and worked on inertial guidance systems in the early space program including those used on the Minuteman missile, and in the Apollo and Gemini manned space flight programs.
In addition to his family, his passions were politics and traveling. During his last trip to Europe in 2006, he logged 13,000 driving miles, visiting 20 countries in four and a half months. His political leanings were Democratic, and his cause was marriage equality. He was a frequent and ardent lecturer on the subject. The LGBT community has lost a zealous supporter. We at PFLAG Los Angeles have lost a devoted member and a good friend.
Johnson & Johnson