PFLAG finds Bronx home at Ethical Culture

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All it took for Jerry and Mimi Goodman to make a change in their community was just a little lunch.

The couple stopped by the Riverdale-Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture on Fieldston Road for its regular “Lunch with the Leader” program, which is a bit self-explanatory — have lunch and engage in a conversation with the local Ethical Culture group’s leader, Jone Johnson Lewis.

The Goodmans got to talk with Lewis about their advocacy work within the LGBTQ community over the last two decades. The two have been heavily involved with PFLAG, a national organization that unites parents, families and friends of people in the LGBTQ community.

Over the course of their conversation, it was clear to the three of them that there was no PFLAG chapter in the Bronx. And that needed to change.

“I think that at that luncheon, Jone saw that this is a topic that we are passionate about, and that obviously, we have a personal interest,” Mimi said. “But we also have always been activists in other areas. So I think it turned out that it was a good fit.”

It also helped that Lewis had been thinking about bringing PFLAG to the community for years, but the right people or opportunity had not come along just yet. But now it has.

“It just seemed natural for our values and the energy that we have right now,” Lewis said.

The Goodmans’ LGBTQ advocacy journey began 22 years ago when their daughter came out to them. After that, they knew they had to take action not only to support her, but to spread that support to other families.

“We were living in Rockland County and we found a PFLAG chapter up there,” Jerry Goodman said. “We’ve been involved with PFLAG ever since.”

Years later, their son came out to them as well, and the couple’s involvement with the 46-year-old organization grew by becoming co-presidents of the Rockland County chapter and starting another in Florida. At one time, Jerry was even president of the organization’s New York state council of PFLAG chapters.

Now that the couple resides in Riverdale, they’re hard at work to bring PFLAG to the Bronx.

“Right now we’re in the process of looking for a place where we can have meetings,” Jerry said. “And we’re also looking to find people who are interested in helping us in the beginning stages of getting the group started.”

The level of involvement in a PFLAG group varies from chapter to chapter, Jerry said. Sometimes there might be 20 people at a meeting, and sometimes there’s only one person. But the numbers don’t matter.

“If there’s one person that we can give support to,” he said, “that is enough for us to feel like we are doing something that’s important.”

PFLAG operates on three ideals: support, education and advocacy. While Mimi says people don’t automatically attend their first meeting looking to become activists, it’s the support that matters the most in the beginning.

“I think someone generally feels motivated to come because either a child or family member has come out and they have mixed feelings about this,” she said. “So the very first thing that would bring somebody (in) is wanting that emotional support.”

When it does come to advocacy, however, Mimi thinks about how important it is to be vocal about LGBTQ issues given the current political climate.

“I think we’re living in a time where rights of all marginalized groups are being challenged,” she said. “There’s a pushback to all of the hard-fought rights that have been won by the LGBT community.”

Back at Ethical Culture, Lewis and Elizabeth Collier — the organization’s community outreach director — are excited to see where this chapter can go.

“This part of the city has a way to go with tolerance and understanding,” Lewis said, “but it’s certainly at the growing edge of that.”

But there is a wide diversity in the Bronx, and that’s something Lewis feels this new PFLAG chapter will have to address.

“A PFLAG group in the Bronx will need to be culturally sensitive and really honored that people are coming from a variety of backgrounds in dealing with family members or their own identity,” she said.

Meanwhile, Collier shares similar sentiments and is happy to see the Goodmans so involved in making the Bronx chapter a reality.

“Having their passion and their experience has been the catalyst to bring that vision to life,” she said.

In order to show their support for the LGBTQ community, the Ethical Culture group recently placed two banners outside their Fieldston Road meeting house.

The first is a pride flag inclusive to people who are transgender and those who identify as non-binary — a gender identity that does not solely identify as a man or a woman and typically uses “they”/”them” pronouns. The other is a Black Lives Matter flag in order to bring attention to how these two communities intersect.

“We understand that life is different for people of color,” Lewis said, “and we want to affirm that they too are a part of the human family and have as much of a right to matter in this world.”

As the Bronx PFLAG chapter begins, the Goodmans want to impart wisdom on what it’s like to raise children in the LGBTQ community for parents who might be struggling with acceptance.

“I hope that we can … help people who are in need through support and education,” Mimi said. “And then our greatest hope is that people move along in this process to the point where they are able and willing to become activists to fight for our children’s rights.”

And when people drive or walk by the Ethical Culture building, Collier anticipates people in the LGBTQ community will see the flags and get the message.

“They will know that we are a space for them,” she said. “So we are thrilled to be able to communicate that to the community.”

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