Associate Spotlight – Living Your Truth with Pride

Buckland executive director advocates for LGBTQ seniors
family
22
Jun '21

Until 1973, homosexuality was, quite unfairly, defined as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of American psychiatry.

In 2015, the United States finally legalized same-sex marriage, thanks to the enduring work of innumerable activists and courageous people refusing to live a lie.

One of those quiet activists is Peg Sullivan, executive director of The Village at Buckland.

Out of the closet

When Peg was 18, she told her sister she was gay. Peg said her sister was shocked by the revelation and said that if she didn’t tell their parents by the weekend, that she would tell them for her. According to her sister, Peg must have been corrupted by somebody ... converted to the gay “lifestyle” because she hadn’t met a good man yet. She lost this relationship for 20+ years.

Their mother was more supportive. She just gave Peg a hug.

But her father was unsure how to respond. For the next few days, they passed each other in silence until Peg finally told him he couldn’t just avoid the subject. She remembers what he said: “It’s like you’ve given me an apple and asked me to swallow it whole. I have to take it bite by bite.”

Don’t ask, don’t tell

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Right out of college, Peg was hired by the Air Force as a civilian employee. Shortly thereafter, she was up for a promotion to be director of the youth center, but someone made an anonymous call to her commander that she’d been spotted at a gay bar and shouldn’t be allowed near kids.

Around that time, her brother said he didn’t want Peg around his new baby because she might give him AIDS. She and her brother were estranged for more than 10 years as a result.

Fortunately, her boss was supportive and didn’t fire her, but at 22 she was too scared to take the promotion and face the potential rancor. She described it as living in a glass closet; hiding in plain sight.

“I rationalized that I would never deny it if directly asked,” she said, “but I wouldn’t volunteer it up.”

Motherhood and happy endings

Two things Peg has always known: “Since I was six years old, I knew something was different about me, though I didn’t know the word to describe what it was. And I knew I wanted to be a mom.”

When she was 24, she started the process of artificial insemination and the doctor required her to have an intensive psychological evaluation before agreeing to assist her. After a couple years she became pregnant with twins.

Thirteen years later, Peg’s (then) fourteen-year-old daughter was flying on her own and got stuck in Baltimore due to weather. Peg’s brother lived there — and though they hadn’t spoken in a decade, she asked him to help her daughter catch a new flight and get home safely. That event changed their relationship for good.

At Peg’s 50th birthday party, her sister’s husband publicly apologized directly for how they’d treated her, and how sorry they were for the lost time. “I remember he said he admired me for being true to myself all these years,” she said. And now she and her sister are closer than ever.

Peg’s father insists that she’s been his biggest opportunity for personal growth. Once when his coworker discovered that his son was gay and was getting ready to disown him, Peg’s dad talked his colleague out of it, sharing his experience with her coming - out and reminding him that this is your child.

“It just made up for so much of what I went through,” she said. “That somebody else didn’t have to go through that because of my dad.”

Peg and her partner Trish had a civil union in 2003, which converted to a marriage when Vermont legalized it in 2009. They then got married in Connecticut and have been together for 24 years come December.

“The joke in our family is we’ve actually been married three times!” Peg said. The happy couple also has two grandchildren.

Gay in public

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Toward the end of 2014, Peg gave her first talk for Leading Age Leadership Academy about creating a culture of acceptance — not just tolerance—for LGBTQ seniors.

“Silence is not golden,” she says in the video, “and you have a right to live authentically in our care.”

At 53, it was the first time she came out professionally, publicly.

That shift led to her role with Benchmark, where she continues her public speaking and advocacy for creating inclusive senior communities— with a project team that has since presented both nationally and internationally.

But it’s the small personal interactions she treasures, like when parents ask her how to talk to their gay children.

“You have to let that child know that unconditionally they’re loved,” she said. “And that anything else can be worked out.”