Adele Starr, a Los Angeles 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.

Ms. Starr died in her sleep Friday at Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., where she had been convalescing after surgery, said her son Philip Starr.

In 1976, Ms. 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.

She was primarily a stay-at-home mother. Ms Starr and her husband Lawrence had four sons and a daughter. In 1974, Philip Starr, the couple's second son, told them he was gay. Although the gay rights movement was well under way 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. Two years later, Adele Starr launched the Los Angeles chapter of PFLAG, modeled loosely after a 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.

"As she got more involved, she realized how oppressive the environment was. She really became an activist," Philip Starr said.

PFLAG is now a Washington-based nonprofit 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.

- Los Angeles Times