The Jewish Standard of New Jersey published an excellent article, “Coming out of the parents’ closet.” The article does a great job talking about several families’ experience having LGBT children and also discussing how one specific Rabbi has evolved over the years but does continue to struggle with how to deal with the issue of LGBT people in his Orthodox community.
For now, “people have to understand that one of the reasons I did the town hall is because it is important for them to hear their rabbi struggling with the issues, and to hear what goes into the rabbi’s decision-making process,” he said. “It is not arbitrary. It does take a lot of things into consideration. It is an ongoing struggle.”
The JTA also published an opinion piece written by fellow Eshel parents about their experience having a lesbian daughter in the Orthodox community. This piece is titled, “Orthodox parents of LGBT children seek communities that care.” I really love how this piece ended:
We understand that we cannot rewrite Leviticus 18:22, but we can reconsider its implications. We can work to change our community’s attitudes. This change can only begin to happen with the courage of our leaders. The conversation must begin in our shuls and schools. All of our children, LGBT or straight, deserve to be respected. After all, aren’t we are all created “b’tzelem elokim,” in God’s image?
Both of these articles were published as the Eshel Parent Retreat comes into focus, the week of May 13-15, and I’m going to take the opportunity for a last minute push at trying to get parents to come. I’ve heard several reasons why parents may feel hesitant about attending and I want to dispel some myths.
Myth #1: The retreat is going to be a place where parents will be sitting around crying about having gay kids the whole weekend. I’m fine and I don’t need support.
Myth #2: The retreat is going to be a place where parents talk about activism the whole weekend. I’m still trying to come to terms with having an LGBT kid and I am not ready to march in a Pride parade with my kid.
One may think that I can’t dispel these two myths without contradicting myself but let me try. The Eshel parent retreat is neither a place where parents sit around and cry about having gay kids nor is it a place where parents don rainbow flags and start screaming “we are here, our kids are queer…” (you get the picture). It is simply a weekend where parents at all stages of the game get together and discuss the issues that go along with being orthodox people with LGBT children. There are some parents for whom this is all new. They might have moments of needing very real support. And there are other parents who have had gay kids for decades and are there to only offer support and because they are ready to change the world. But these parents usually learn from one another and offer each other companionship and friendship because they have a shared story. Mostly there are parents who are probably somewhere in between. Parents who are there mostly because they love their children.
I’ve told this story before on this blog, but when my son first came out my husband and I accepted him right away. We didn’t question him or G-d. We took his coming out for what it was and went into action mode to get him help that as a 14 year old gay kid in an Orthodox community, he needed. I was at parent teacher conferences and happened to meet with a woman who was my son’s teacher who has a lesbian daughter. My son had felt close to her and came out to her. She asked if I knew about Eshel and I responded, “oh, I don’t need that, I’m fine.” I’m glad I ignored my initial thoughts because even though I WAS fine about having a gay kid, I did and still do need support.
I need the community that Eshel provides me. I need the ability to converse with other parents about what having a gay kid means in our world. Things might be ok today, but what happens when my son brings someone home to marry? How will my larger community react? How will I react to them? My Eshel community discusses these kinds of things with me. When someone occasionally makes an insensitive remark about my having a gay child, my Eshel community offers advice for how to deal with it. The parent retreat is a weekend of brainstorming, talking, sharing experiences. It isn’t uncommon for a parent who is totally “OK” to have a moment of doubt and it isn’t uncommon for a parent who doesn’t want to be an activist make a decision that they want to help in SOME way.
We are Orthodox Jews and therefore, we are all parents who are used to being part of a greater community. But sometimes our Orthodox community isn’t somewhere that we can turn or that can offer us insight about having an LGBT child. Eshel does do that. It’s not all “support group” and it isn’t all “activism.” It’s a little bit of everything, and a lot of feeling like I belong.