In 1991, Keith Froehlich and his late wife Bonnie founded the Idyllwild chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians, Gays) in support of their gay son Ted. Froehlich opens this season’s Idyllwild Community Recreation Council (ICRC) Speaker Series with a talk titled, “The Power of One.” Froehlich reflects on the challenges in founding a local PFLAG chapter, the very different level of gay visibility and acceptance in Idyllwild at the time, and the courage of local lesbian, gay, transgender and transsexual individuals who then began to come out, encouraged by the Froehlich’s hosting of teas and social gatherings.
Froehlich has lived in Idyllwild since 1941, when, at the age of five, he moved here with his family. “It was a very small town then, maybe 300 people,” Froehlich said, “and much as it is now, mostly white.” Froehlich noted that Idyllwild had many of the virtues of small town life, but also had the insularity that goes along with a small isolated mountain town. “Now our residents are more connected with the outside world,” he said, with levels of acceptance that can bring greater tolerance and understanding of diversity.
“It was Bonnie’s idea to begin hosting the teas,” said Froehlich, recalling that they wanted to help create a safe place for their son, who had come out to them at the age of 21. “That first Sunday [that we hosted the tea] at 3:30, the doorbell rang. Each time it rang, heads would turn to see who was coming in. There were lots of ‘I thought so’s’ from those already gathered each time someone new came in. Eventually there were 32 people that first Sunday – four who were straight including Bonnie and I, and 28 locals who had come to their first Idyllwild gay social function.”
Froehlich cited the courage it took for those 28 to come to his front door that first afternoon. Even then in 1991, acceptance of gays was just beginning to take root in communities outside of major east and west coast metropolitan areas. Froehlich remembered how scared he was at the time — scared for his son after his coming out and scared himself to be undertaking this very visible effort. “We did get some hate calls,” he recalled. “But over time Idyllwild was changed because of PFLAG.”
The gay potlucks, which continue monthly to this day, for the first years had to be held at the Froehlich house. “We were straight parents with good reputations,” said Keith. “We provided a certain level of cover.”
In his talk, Froehlich will posit that the courage of one — to come out as gay and the courage of parents, families and friends to embrace them — provides the opportunity for our wider society to become “one” in the understanding of and appreciation for the diversity that ultimately strengthens us as a society.
Keith Froehlich speaks at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16 at Creekstone Inn.