Kathryn Schulz profiles Jeanne Manford, who founded Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) fifty years ago this spring. For many, openly supporting LGBTQ2S+ folks was considered a radical act in the 1970s, so much so, that only a handful of people attended PFLAG’s first meeting. Fast forward to today, and PFLAG boasts 400 chapters worldwide with more than a quarter million members, all because a mother did what mothers do: She simply loved her son.

That growth reflects a cultural change of extraordinary speed and magnitude—a transformation, incomplete but nonetheless astonishing, in the legal, political, and social status of L.G.B.T.Q. people in America. Paradoxically, one consequence of that transformation is that the moral courage of Jeanne Manford, so evident to everyone lining Sixth Avenue that day, has become hard to fully appreciate. Parents in general, and mothers in particular, have long been a potent political force, from the mothers of the disappeared in Argentina to Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Moms Demand Action. In such cases, the power of parents derives from loving their children and trying to protect them, among the most fundamental and respected of human instincts. What made Jeanne Manford different—and what made her actions so consequential—is that, until she started insisting otherwise, the kind of child she had was widely regarded as the kind that not even a mother could love.