Paulette Goodman (2012)

I would like us [P-FLAG] to go out of business one day because that would mean society has become accepting of all people and that we don’t have to fight for our gay and lesbian children.

I know what it’s like to be a minority and to be threatened with your life.  I know what it’s like to be in the closet.  I know all too well.

From an early age, Paulette Goodman knew all about discrimination. In the book Making History: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights (1992), she recounted to historian Eric Marcus how, as a Jewish child growing up in Nazi-occupied Paris, her classmates “called me a sale Juive, a ‘dirty Jew.’” Family members died in Auschwitz and other concentration camps, and only by luck did Paulette and her parents survive.

Paulette moved to the United States in 1949 and eventually relocated to Silver Spring, Maryland, in 1980. After her daughter came out as a lesbian in 1981, Paulette helped found the Metro Washington-area chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), which incorporated in 1983, originally meeting regularly in Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church. As a full-time volunteer for ten years, and as chapter president, regional director, and then national president from 1988 to 1992, Paulette counseled families of gay people and answered over 2,500 calls on the PFLAG helpline, and was a key figure in a campaign to get P-FLAG ads displayed on DC Metro buses. 

Paulette has appeared on radio and TV, in print media, and before legislative bodies and has given numerous talks and workshops at universities, churches, and other public forums. She has lobbied in Annapolis and on Capitol Hill for equal rights for gays and lesbians, and helped start PFLAG chapters in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, and West Virginia. In 1984, she founded Montgomery County Citizens for Justice; her earliest public advocacy work had been testifying in favor of a gay rights ordinance in Montgomery County in 1983.

Nationally, Paulette Goodman was honored for her work with PFLAG by the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists in 1991; received the Public Service Award of the Greater New York Bar Association for Human Rights in 1991; and was awarded an honorary membership in 2001 by the University of Pennsylvania’s Gay and Lesbian Alumni Association. In DC, Paulette served as the Grand Marshal of the 1989 gay pride parade. Additionally, she was honored by the Human Rights Campaign in 1990, and she received both a 20th anniversary award from Dignity-Washington in 1992, and Pride of Washington D.C.’s Matter of Pride award in 1993. She also spoke at the opening of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1993, and in Paris in 1992 at the third annual European-Israeli Regional Conference of Gay and Lesbian Jews.

Paulette made national news when columnists Evans and Novak noted her correspondence with Barbara Bush at the time of the 20th anniversary of Stonewall, in which she asked the First Lady to speak out on behalf of gay and lesbian people and their families. In addition to her oral history in Eric Marcus’s Making History, which discusses both her childhood in Nazi-occupied France and the evolvement of her connection to PFLAG, Paulette and her husband Leo were the subject of a chapter in Bob Bernstein’s Straight Parents, Gay Children: Keeping Families Together (2003).