Carole Benowitz was really worried about her son, Neil. "He was engaged to be married, but he broke it off suddenly and wouldn't tell us why," said Ms. Benowitz. "He went into a deep, deep depression. He wouldn't eat. He wouldn't sleep." Over twenty-five years later, Ms. Benowitz recalls her emotions when she figured out what was causing her son's misery.
"I went running up the stairs and said, 'We know! We know! We know you're gay, Neil!" said Ms. Benowitz. When her son opened the bedroom door, he was holding his suitcase. "He asked, 'Do you want me to leave?'" said Ms. Benowitz. "I told him, 'Of course not, I love you.'" On that day in 1986, Ms. Benowitz and her husband began their journey to learn more about homosexuality and how to adjust their lifelong dreams.
"I had been knitting clothes, expecting a baby soon," said Ms. Benowitz. "Now, I was going to the library, reading as many books about homosexuality as I could find." Because she was concerned how people would react to the news, Ms. Benowitz kept Neil's sexual orientation a secret for five years. "I went in the closet just as Neil did," she said.
After moving from Long Island to Boca Raton, Ms. Benowitz found out about an organization called PFLAG: Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. "I decided, I would go to a meeting, but I hoped I wouldn't run into someone I knew," she said. Today, Ms. Benowitz is not only president of PFLAG - Palm Beach Chapter, but also served as PFLAG's Florida State Coordinator. She has been responsible for starting chapters throughout the southeastern United States.
"I became known as the Johnny Appleseed for PFLAG," she said, openly sharing her story with total strangers.
Her dedication to the organization grew from the support and education she received from PFLAG members. She is happy to report that Neil has been with his partner for over 20 years. "There are grandparents at these meetings," she said. "We see parents trying to come out to their children. We see youths being tortured in the schools because they have gay or lesbian parents. PFLAG chapters offer support and advocacy for gay, lesbian, transgendered and bi-sexual people and their friends and families. The group also discusses how to deal with emotions, such as anger, fear and depression relating to their loved-ones' revelation.