WASHINGTON—PFLAGers everywhere mourn the death of Paulette Goodman, who served as PFLAG National President from 1988 until 1992. Goodman was born in a Jewish family, growing up in Nazi-occupied Paris until her family moved to the United States in 1949. When her daughter came out to her in 1981 she got involved with PFLAG, eventually helping to found PFLAG Metro DC in 1983, serving as its first president.
In a 2019 interview with The Atlantic, Goodman recalled what inspired her to get involved with PFLAG, stating, “When I found out about my gay child, II realized it was the same situation. You’re guarded about who you are, because you don’t know who’s going to be supportive...I didn’t want my child to go through what I went through, being in the closet is stifling.” It was her understanding, passion, and success with PFLAG Metro DC—setting up support meetings, starting up a phone helpline, and even leading a campaign to get PFLAG Metro DC ads to run on local buses—that led PFLAGers to vote her in as president of the national organization.
In this role, it was Goodman’s letter to then First Lady Barbara Bush that made national news. After seeing the First Lady on TV, she felt she might be able to share her personal story to elicit a response, during the height of the AIDS crisis. In asking Mrs. Bush to, “... speak kind words to some 24 million gay Americans and their families, to help heal the wounds, and to keep these families in loving relationships.”
Mrs. Bush responded with a letter stating, “I firmly believe that we cannot tolerate discrimination against any individuals or groups in our country. Such treatment always brings with it pain and perpetuates intolerance.” Inadvertently given to the Associated Press, her comments caused a political maelstrom and were perhaps the first gay-positive comments to come from the White House.”
In later years, Goodman retired but her advocacy remained steady, starting the very first chapter of PFLAG in a retirement community with a fellow PFLAG parent.
“Paulette Goodman showed the world what it means to be a loving PFLAG parent and ally,” said PFLAG National Executive Director Brian K. Bond. “Her experiences as a Jewish girl growing up under Nazi occupation informed the work she did throughout her life, and she brought that experience, that empathy, that drive to her work with LGBTQ+ kids and their families. PFLAGers everywhere can look to her as a role model, for once she went through her experience with her own child and got the support she needed, she used that experience to educate others and then advocate for the wellbeing and equality of all LGBTQ+ people. She was the embodiment of what we tell PFLAG members: ‘Once you no longer need PFLAG, PFLAG needs you.’ PFLAG needed—and was so lucky to have—Paulette Goodman. Our hearts are with her family and all who knew and loved her.”
For her work with PFLAG over the years, Goodman was honored multiple times over, including by the Human Rights Campaign in 1990, by the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists and the Greater New York Bar Association for Human Rights in 1991, and by both Dignity-Washington and Pride of Washington D.C. in 1993.
You can listen to an interview with Paulette Goodman via the Making Gay History podcast from founder and host, author Eric Marcus, at makinggayhistory.com/podcast/paulette-goodman/.
ABOUT PFLAG NATIONAL
PFLAG is the first and largest organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) people, their parents and families, and allies. With more than 400 chapters and 250,000 members and supporters crossing multiple generations of families in major urban centers, small cities, and rural areas across America, PFLAG is committed to creating a world where diversity is celebrated and all people are respected, valued, and affirmed. To learn more, visit pflag.org, like us on Facebook (/pflag), or follow us on Twitter (@pflag) or Instagram.