Most queer people in St. George know Claudia Bradshaw. And so do their parents. And siblings. And close friends. Bradshaw, who has been described as the loving mother of the gays in Southern Utah, started PFLAG St. George in 1999; it was the first gay organization of its kind in Southern Utah.
“In August of 1998 my sweet son came home and told me he was gay,” Bradshaw said. “My world was shaken and I said some things that I shouldn’t have.”
Her son patiently helped her move along and come to the realization that if God loved all his children, he wouldn’t leave out gay people, she said.
“I was a very active Mormon, and I used to be a temple worker,” Bradshaw said. “When I speak with parents of gay children, that’s often the first question they ask. If I’m Mormon. I tell them not anymore. I just don’t feel the peace there anymore.”
Since she started PFLAG more than a decade ago, Bradshaw has touched hundreds of lives and has held countless meetings, lunches and personal appoints with gay people and their families. She helped plan the Southern Utah Pride Festivals and she has been an invaluable resource for young lesbian, gay and transgender youth in St. George. She holds monthly meetings in herhome that can attract up to 50 people, depending on the week.
Bradshaw’s efforts are being honored at the First Annual Equality Utah Celebration, an event being held at the end of May to help raise funds and awareness for an education and advocacy program in Southern Utah. She is being honored along with Chris McArdle, who helped start the Southern Utah Pride events.
“We each play a role in life, I think. And Claudia is the love,” McArdle said. “Her light is so bright and it shines right through her. She has touched so many lives and her existence will live on through all the lives she has touched for good.”
Bradshaw is a perfect example for what the community needs and the leaders that Southern Utah is producing, McArdle said.
Doing the right thing for her son and for all her gay and lesbian friends is a driving force in her life, Bradshaw said.
“I decided I need to speak up for gay rights. If not me, then who?” Bradshaw asked. “But of course I don’t have to worry about getting fired for it. Or getting evicted. I know so many people that have that worry.”
Bradshaw said she tries to create an environment where gay people can be open about who they are without fear of retribution. But, it’s very difficult in Southern Utah because most people want to pretend like there’s just not a problem, she said. Most people want to simply ignore the gay community in St. George. She is trying to help parents and family members of gays and lesbians to help create a more positive environment.
“My main goal is to recruit parents. I don’t need to recruit gays, they already come to me,” Bradshaw said.
Coming out as a gay parent can be very difficult for some, but it opens doors to discussion, which is the only way real change will be affected, she said.
“I love to start conversations by saying, ‘Hi, my name is Claudia Bradshaw and I have a gay son,’” she said. “You have no idea how many doors have been opened because of that.”
She said she sees the examples of progress in the movement because of all the people that are filling leadership positions in gay-straight alliances and other areas.
“I am so excited for the dinner and the movement that it will help start. I am so excited to see a new generation of leaders and activists stepping up to the plate,” Bradshaw said.
The Equality Celebration Dinner is being held on May 21 and more information is available at EqualityUtah.org. Tickets are sold out, but there is a waiting list. The dinner will honor a variety of youth and adult leaders as well as raise money for a campaign to help raise awareness in Southern Utah.
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