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PFLAG mom Marilyn Keller dies

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PFLAG matriarch Marilyn Keller died Dec. 30, 2013, several weeks after suffering a stroke while visiting California to celebrate her 85th birthday.

For decades, Keller was among the most consistent and visible PFLAG activists working for LGBT equality in Illinois.

Funeral services will be Friday, Jan. 3 at 10 a.m., Chicago Jewish Funerals, 8851 Skokie Blvd, Skokie, Ill.

Marilyn Keller was a lifelong Chicagoan, raised in Logan Square and moving in Niles in the 1950s. But the 10 miles from city to suburb are nothing in comparison to her journey as the mother of two gay children.

In 1976 her daughter Lynn called from college to say she was a lesbian. Marilyn and her husband Jerry encouraged Lynn to seek psychiatric counseling before it was "too late." Then in the early 1980s their son, Irwin, came out to them. This was a painful period for them. They were now two for two, and they knew that something had to give.

They worked up the nerve to visit Chicago PFLAG and, more remarkable, they went back. Marilyn joined a "Mothers of Gays" subgroup of mostly Jewish women, meeting monthly in Skokie. Things began to change. With these women with whom she shared something unusual and meaningful, she began to put down roots in the LGBT movement and to flourish there.

In 1991, the Kellers' synagogue approached them about starting a PFLAG chapter there. They agreed and Glenview PFLAG was born. More than 20 years later, the chapter (now in Deerfield) continues to thrive, serving a new generation of parents.

"PFLAG Glenview was an instrumental component in the spread of Gay-Straight Alliances throughout the Chicago suburban schools in the 1990s and 2000s," said Toni Armstrong Jr., former youth leadership development and scholarship coordinator with Chicago's chapter of GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network). "And having the unfailing support of the Kellers was a real driver. Certainly at schools like Maine East—where both of their children went to high school—it helped immensely to have parental support. Marilyn in particular helped secure funding for Maine East to sponsor dances where kids from all Chicagoland GSAs could attend. There's simply no counting how many young people's—and LGBT teachers'—lives she changed for the better."

Marilyn, on her own since Jerry's death in 2000, became equally comfortable presiding over a meeting, assembling a newsletter, collecting donations in gay bars and knocking on legislators' doors in Springfield.

Marilyn grew up in an extended family that organized itself around charitable work—for her, working to improve the world was simply what families did. It was how you cemented your connections and expressed your love. Marilyn grew to realize that her children faced injustice and this became her life mission. Being an activist (and surrogate mom to countless LGBT Chicagoans) is how she expressed her love for her children, and how she created family wherever she goes.

Keller was among the mothers featured in the 2012 Windy City Times book MOM: A Tribute to Mothers of LGBTs, pictured with her children Irwin and Lynn Keller.

In addition to Lynn and Irwin, was mother-in-law to Oren Slozberg,and "mother-out-law" of Anne and Suegee Tamar-Mattis, and grandmother of Squid and Ari Tamar-Mattis

If you would like to make a contribution in her memory, send it to PFLAG-Deerfield, 1201 Lake Cook Rd., Deerfield, IL 60015. Mark the check "Marilyn Keller Fund."

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