I returned home from the Eshel Retreat for Orthodox Parents of LGBT Children. First of all, let me say thank you to Eshel for this wonderful experience. Eshel is a fantastic organization and I have a small feeling that I will have a whole lot more to do with it as time goes on. Rabbi Steven Greenberg and Miryam Kabakov are the executive directors of this organization and I honestly don’t even know what to say about what they’re doing for LGBT people in/from Orthodox communities and backgrounds. It’s incredible, overwhelming, and humbling.
I’m going to give my general impressions of the weekend in this post and then in the future I may go more in depth as I revisit certain topics. As I sit here typing and thinking about this weekend all I can say is “wow”. What a weekend. If I had to describe how I’m feeling in one word it would definitely be overwhelmed. I’m overwhelmed by the experience. By the positive, open, warm and loving people I met. By the stories I heard. By the realizations that my role as a parent of an LGBT child in the Orthodox community doesn’t allow me to sit back and reap the benefits of the hard work of others. If I want change, I need to be part of it. And to be honest, it scares the hell out of me.
There were about 20-25 families represented at this retreat, as well as several allies, and facilitators, both gay and straight. I was the youngest parent, and I had the youngest LGBT child. Although there were other teenagers represented, and they were only a year or so older than my son. Besides the large sessions that all of the retreat attendees took part in, I was part of a chaburah of parents of younger teenage LGBT kids. It was so incredible to be able to talk to other parents of LGBT kids. We talked about schools, discipline, general teenage angst and teenage angst as it relates to our kids being LGBT. I really feel like I bonded with my chaburah-mates from the weekend.
But I also got to know so many other wonderful parents. In some ways I felt like the baby amongst many of them. But our age differences didn’t detract, I think they enhanced the weekend. I was able to look up to these parents role models for me and my child. Besides talking about LGBT things, they were all so amazing in offering resources and anecdotes just about raising kids in general.
The theme of the weekend was “hiding” (appropriate for a week before Purim) and all the different ways we hide when we have a child who is LGBT. This was a great theme and springboard, but there seemed to be a grassroots theme to the weekend as well. How do we get the Orthodox Rabbis to empathize with our LGBT kids and our families? Notice how I didn’t say “How do we get the Orthodox Rabbis to change Halacha?” or “How do we get the Orthodox Rabbis to officiate at our kids same sex weddings?” We are simply asking for empathy. For the understanding and acknowledgment that there are LGBT kids in the frum world and to ignore them is tantamount to denying that it’s true. We can’t be ignored anymore. This is not going away. For every kid like my son who had the courage to come out to us at 14, there are however many other kids who don’t think they can ever come out to their parents. Who are struggling. Who are self hating. Who are very possibly suicidal.
I know what my greater mission is now. Besides continuing to love and support my son and to work with him with whatever he needs from me, I have no choice. I have to be an ambassador for all the kids whose parents either don’t know about them, or refuse to come forward. I’m not going to lie. I’m petrified. This is NOT me. I don’t do these kinds of things. I don’t even know where to begin. Of course the fact that my son isn’t totally out yet is a factor as well (I actually just had to remind myself that), but I must at least keep this momentum going in my mind and with the parents I met through this conference because if I remain silent, I’m sacrificing my son and countless of others to have no hope in the Orthodox Word.
G-d help me.