September 19, 2019

The Mother of PFLAG

“In the 1980s, when residents of the Washington, D.C., area called a hotline set up for parents of lesbian and gay people, it was often Paulette Goodman’s home phone that rang. “I heard such awful stories,” she told me, mentioning one gay man who called after being released from the hospital—he’d tried to kill himself. At the time, the response that many parents had to learning that their child was gay was, in Goodman’s words, “Throw them out.”

Many parents called in because they were struggling to come to terms with their child’s sexuality. From a puffy armchair in a retirement community in Silver Spring, Maryland, Goodman—now 85 years old—relayed a version of what she’d say to a typical caller: “Your child is whatever your child is. It’s no different than before you found out—now you know a little more about that person.” It was a message she doubts these parents would have gotten anywhere else at the time.

Goodman is such a parent herself—one of her children came out in the early ’80s. (She doesn’t like to publicly share details, out of respect for her child’s privacy.) Many parents had this experience in that era, but few of them turned to advocacy and allyship, as Goodman did.

When asked why her path diverged from those of many others in her position, she pointed matter-of-factly to her upbringing. Goodman was born in 1933 in Paris, and some of her childhood overlapped with the Nazi occupation of France. She remembers having to conceal her Jewish identity when going to the movies or a swimming pool, which were deemed off-limits for Jews. Sometimes, there were roundups; Goodman lost several relatives in the Holocaust. “We had to be very guarded,” she told me.”

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