Riderwood becomes first retirement community with PFLAGBy Kelly A. Shue
Famed American columnist Erma Bombeck once wrote, “It is not until you become a mother that your judgment slowly turns to compassion and understanding.” Perhaps no one exemplifies this statement better than Riderwood’s Paulette Goodman, who in the early 1980s, upon learning that she had a gay child, diligently began working to help other mothers, family members, and friends understand and support the homosexuals in their lives.
“I heard a public service announcement on the radio from the Federation of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays,” says Goodman. The organization would later become PFLAG—Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. More than a name, “the group provides support and education that is so necessary,” says Goodman. In 1982, she became the founding mother of PFLAG’s metropolitan D.C. chapter. In that capacity, she organized a widely successful international conference in 1987 and the following year was asked to serve as PFLAG’s national president.
During her four-year tenure as president, Goodman reached out to then-First Lady Barbara Bush, writing a letter requesting her support. Bush personally replied with the first gay-positive White House comment, stating, “I firmly believe that we cannot tolerate discrimination against any individuals or groups in our country. Such treatment always brings pain and perpetuates intolerance.” Since then, Goodman has continued to devote her time and effort to PFLAG and its over 200,000 members and supporters.
Another voice in the chorus of community
In 2003, upon learning that friend and fellow PFLAG parent Millie Spector was moving to Riderwood, Goodman decided to follow suit. “I told Paulette that I thought there must be a need for PFLAG at Riderwood, so we decided to see what we could do,” says Spector. “We had our initial meetings in my apartment and quickly discovered that there was a lot of interest.”
With a dozen members, the nation’s first PFLAG chapter at a retirement community began its work. “As the community has grown, so has our group. We are now one of the most active groups on campus,” says Goodman. Riderwood’s PFLAG group receives materials from the metropolitan D.C. chapter. In addition to holding monthly meetings, it sponsors events coinciding with pertinent national debates, such as “don’t ask, don’t tell” and marriage equality. With the help of Riderwood’s Unitarians, the group has hosted the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C., three times. Each time, the event has been sold out. “It’s a fabulous, Kennedy Center-caliber show,” says Goodman. “It’s been wonderful to host it here at Riderwood. I believe it helps give relevance to our families.”
By providing support to members, the PFLAG group is also having a direct impact on the whole Riderwood community. “There’s no doubt that some people have their minds set,” says Goodman. “But we’ve been able to inform many people and open lots of minds. There are many myths and misconceptions about homosexuality and gender identification, but we can change that.
“I think it really makes a difference to people when they realize that we are talking about our own family members,” she adds. “People are people regardless of their sexual identification. They need to be respected and affirmed.”
Spector agrees. “The population at this age didn’t grow up with homosexuality being OK,” she says. “They didn’t know they’d have to deal with this issue with their grandchildren. PFLAG gives us the opportunity to be advocates.”
One of the ways PFLAG advocates for its members is by maintaining complete confidentiality. “As long as people feel uncomfortable talking about their child, grandchild, or friend, then it’s like living a secret. It’s healthy to talk about the people you love, and we want to help people do that,” says Goodman. As a result, “we don’t name names, and everyone is welcome.” Goodman admits that she herself is a very private person. PFLAG has afforded her the opportunity to maintain her privacy but also affirm the love and support she has for her child. “It’s made for a very exciting life here at Riderwood,” she says. “And as long as we can provide information and support, then I’ll continue to do my part.”