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Making a difference

Riderwood’s PFLAG group reaches out to hearts and minds

Created date

June 5th, 2015
Riderwood resident
Riderwood resident

People living at Rid... who are searching for information or resources on how to best support a family member who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender don’t have to look very far. For more than a decade, the Erickson Living community in Silver Spring, Md., has had its own group, PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).

Resident Paulette Goodman, the founding mother of the Metro DC chapter of PFLAG in the 1980s, spearheaded efforts to form a PFLAG group at Riderwood about ten years ago. Milly Spector, a resident who also helped establish Riderwood’s PFLAG group, says Paulette is fond of saying, “We change minds and hearts one person at a time.”

“Paulette has been doing this for 35 years, and she is so adept at educating people. She looks like a typical grandmother and is completely nonthreatening,” says Milly. “People will come to me crying and saying, ‘I just discovered I have a gay grandson. I’m so upset and his parents are so upset.’ And, I say, ‘Have them call Paulette,’ and it’s not long before that grandmother is the proudest grandmother.” 

A visible presence

Milly says Riderwood’s PFLAG group participates every year in the community’s diversity and health fairs to make sure people who might need the group’s resources know they are available. In addition to educating residents who have a gay or lesbian family member, Milly says PFLAG members also try to provide information for youngsters who are questioning their sexual orientation and may not have the support of their own parents.

“We walk around wearing big buttons that say ‘I’m a PFLAG mom or dad,’” Milly says. “We want the young people who work here to ask us about it.”

Riderwood’s PFLAG group organizes a number of fun and informative events each year. For several years, the group has partnered with Riderwood’s Unitarian group to host a performance by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C. Milly says that the first year, they were worried that ticket sales would be low, but the show has sold out every year. The acclaimed chorus will perform again at Riderwood in October.

Last year, Riderwood PFLAG organized an informative presentation to educate people about the transgender community. In June, the group plans to host a showing of Gen Silent, a documentary that explores the oppression and fear many older LGBT people face in health care settings because of lingering prejudice against homosexuality. Some aging members of the LGBT community who have been open about who they are for many years find themselves forced to go back into the closet in order to safely access medical and caregiving services.

“As the population grows older, it is becoming obvious that there are few safe havens in retirement communities for those who are ‘gay and gray,’” Milly says. “Riderwood is hoping to make a difference.” 

This film is being presented by the Riderwood Resident Life Department, Riderwood PFLAG, and the Universalist Unitarians at Riderwood. It will be shown on Monday, June 8, in the Card Room at Village Square at 2 p.m.

Over the decade since the PFLAG group was founded at Riderwood, Milly says she has seen attitudes shift dramatically.

“We have acclimated residents here at Riderwood to gay marriage, to homosexuality, and to PFLAG. When Maryland was trying to pass the gay marriage bill, we did a lot of education here. We talked about it in every venue we went to with our residents, and, of course, it was passed,” Milly says. “We are at a point where we talk very openly at the dinner table. People will proudly say, ‘My son is gay or my granddaughter and her spouse are coming to visit with the great-grandchildren.’”

Milly’s own son, who is now in his fifties, came out as a gay man when he was 19 years old. Milly is proud of the work she has done to make the world a safer and happier place for him and for the millions of other members of the LGBT community.

“In PFLAG, we try to be moms to all of these kids who are afraid to come out to their own moms. It’s not so selfless what we are doing; it also enhances us,” Milly says. “It really has been my life’s mission.”