June Horner was attending Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) meetings for more than six months before she got the courage to ask her son if he was gay.
It was 1984, and when she began suspecting her son was homosexual, Horner said she didn't know who to turn to for advice.
"I didn't know what to do," she said. "I couldn't think who to ask."
She worried that if she asked her son, she would lose him. She worried that if she asked friends, they would judge. She worried that if she asked her minister, he would tell her that her son was doing something evil.
"I did know that my son was a wonderful son," she said. "That he was kind and moral and scrupulously honest."
Horner said she found out about what she termed a "gay bookstore," got the phone number for someone with a PFLAG chapter in Silver Spring and attended a meeting.
"That was better than a psychiatrist," she said. "It was my salvation."
PFLAG officially formed in 1982 in California as a community of "safe havens" for parents with gay and lesbian children, according to the national organization's website.
Sunday, members of the Carroll County PFLAG chapter gathered at St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Westminster for their annual potluck barbecue to socialize with each other and discuss upcoming events.
Westminster resident Sarah Middleton said she attended her first PFLAG meeting in November.
"As soon as I came out of the closet, I realized I should probably have this inclusive environment," she said.
Middleton brought her mother, Brenda Middleton, to the barbecue Sunday. It was her first PFLAG event.
"She loves it," Brenda Middleton said. "Whatever makes her happy makes me happy."
Before her daughter came out, Brenda Middleton said she did not know there was a PFLAG chapter in Westminster, even though she had lived in the community her entire life.
The Carroll County chapter took a few tries to get off the ground, but finally coalesced in 2011 after the bullying of gay youth gained national attention, according to steering committee member Judy Gaver. St. Paul's agreed to host meetings and events for the group.
Gaver's son came out when he was in college in 2001, and she found a PFLAG meeting in Columbia in Howard County because there was nothing in her hometown of Westminster.
"I struggled in the beginning," she said. "All I knew was the negative stereotypes. It was easy for me to be around other people who were going through what I did."
At the time, the AIDS crisis was not as big a concern as it had been in the 1980s in the gay community, Gaver said, but the murder of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man, was on her mind.
"Here was my kid in Carroll County," she said, adding that she made it her goal to see that her son felt supported.
"It didn't stop me from loving him," she said. "I knew that I still loved him. I knew that God still loved him."
Now, with more than a decade of PFLAG membership, Gaver said that she is seeing a great deal of progress.
"It's been my salvation," Gaver said. "I wasn't always the cool PFLAG mom."
At her first meeting, Horner said she was relieved to meet not only other parents sharing her experience, but also members of the gay and lesbian community who reminded her of her son.
"They had some pretty sad stories in 1984," she said.
Horner said things have changed drastically in her 30 years as a PFLAG member, including Maryland becoming one of an increasing number of states to permit same-sex marriage.
"Things have gotten much better," she said.
Horner and Gaver are both members of the Carroll County PFLAG steering committee and assisted in getting it started.
McDaniel graduate Jennifer Bock wanted to tell the story of Carroll County's PFLAG chapter, so she made them the subject of her capstone film project for the cinema program.
"If you're really going to go out there and make a difference through film, you really have to pick something that's important to someone besides yourself," she said.
Bock said the challenge in making her 20-minute documentary was finding room for all of the voices involved, including those who oppose homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
"It was hard," she said. "So many people have so many different, emotional stories."
PFLAG steering committee member Naomi Keppler was featured in the documentary along with her girlfriend, Krista Regester.
Keppler said she and Regester met with Bock and just talked on camera for hours about the organization and their personal stories.
"It was really Jen's baby," she said. "I think she did a good job."
The film will be screened at the next meeting of Carroll County PFLAG on Sept. 21 at 5 p.m. at St. Paul's, according to vice president Joy Fisher.
Also in September, the organization will march in Westminster's Fallfest parade.
"Despite it being Westminster, we do have a great deal of support," Fisher said.
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Reach staff writer Heather Cobun at 410-857-7898 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.