PLANT CITY — When Nancy and John “Lefty” Desmond’s adult son told them four years ago that he was gay, they decided to do more than accept him with unconditional love.
The Plant City couple wanted to help other parents who face similar revelations react with understanding.
They founded the Tampa chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. They also have been active in advocacy of gay rights.
“They go to every meeting and every event to show their support,” said the Rev. Jim Rapp, who got to know the Desmonds when he was interim minister of a gay-friendly Tampa church.
The couple’s work has earned them and other members of their chapter a place of honor on a float as grand marshals at the St. Pete Pride parade on June 28. The other grand marshals are St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice and Jay Aller, resource development manager for AIDS Service Association of Pinellas.
St. Pete Pride Executive Director Eric Skains said the Desmonds are the first straight people selected to serve as the parade’s grand marshals.
“I know they have done a lot of good work for the PFLAG organization,” he said.
The Desmonds, who retired to Walden Lake eight years ago, said they founded the PFLAG chapter so they could help other parents and protect the rights of gays and lesbians. The chapter holds monthly meetings and has several purposes, including serving as a support group.
“We are the first door families go through after they find out that a family member is gay,” Nancy Desmond said.
The Desmonds say they were surprised when their son and only child, J.P., told them in a telephone call that he was gay and had a longtime partner.
“The first thing I wanted to know when he came out was to make sure he was safe. I worried about his safety. I have found that it’s a very typical reaction,” she said.
They said they traveled up North to see their son, now 32, and meet his partner. They found out their son was active in a gay-friendly church.
“We hadn’t been to church in decades,” Nancy Desmond said, but they decided to reconnect with their faith through First United Church of Christ.
They formed PFLAG Tampa after visiting a chapter in Valrico. That chapter since has merged with their organization.
The Desmonds say they try to urge family members who visit their meetings to accept loved ones who tell them they are gay or lesbian.
“It’s very important that you don’t try to change them. You can’t,” she said. “They need to be able to express who they are. You can’t change them.”
The Desmonds have marched in the St. Pete Pride parades for four years. The parades were formed more than a decade ago to support gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
They say they feel honored to ride in the ranks of grand marshals.
“We are thrilled,” she said. “We are looking forward to it.”