When a child comes out, a coming out process begins for the entire family. In honor of Mother’s and Father’s Day, we bring you our second post in a series by parent leaders of Keshet’s Parent & Family Connection. The Connection is a confidential peer support program for parents and family members of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Jews. We celebrate the support and love that these parents give their LGBTQ children – and the support they now offer other parents. This week’s post is by “MBSD,” an Orthodox parent from Baltimore, MD. You can read the previous post in this series, by a mother of a queer daughter in Colorado, here.
A peaceful Shabbat walk in the woods. I neared a bubbling brook, stood on a footbridge and gazed down at the streaming water, contemplating the beauty of Hashem‘s creations. I saw a wide bed of rocks of various shapes and sizes. There were boulders to the left, boulders to the right, even some in the middle. Together they formed their own community; each rock was an integral part of a whole entity that had a beautiful stream flowing through it. It was a metaphor for the ideal harmony we’d like to see in our Jewish communities. We are a people that share the same religion yet come from different backgrounds with different viewpoints. Still, we’re all connected by our love for Torah, that stream of energy that unites us.
In some cases, though, our differences seem to disenfranchise us from the greater community. Such can be the case with families of children who are LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender). In a lot of Orthodox communities, families, such as mine, feel as though they must hide this fact from others. As though telling the truth would bring about alienation, and highlight the way in which we are different from the mainstream. We didn’t ask for this. Our children were born this way, b’tzelem Elokim, in the image of God. For reasons we may never know, God, in His infinite wisdom, created our children with a sexual orientation or gender identity that is not what we expected.
Yes, we know those verses in the Torah…. But we also love our children unconditionally and that love buoys us and gives us the strength to endure, to find a way to reconcile that feeling with our adherence to a Shomer Torah [traditionally observant] lifestyle.
On this particular Shabbat I was a participant at the first-ever national retreat for Orthodox parents of LGBT children. Held at the Capital Retreat Center, not too far from Baltimore, the weekend brought together thirty-nine parents from various cities, all seeking support and a sense of community. This event was organized by a wonderful organization called Eshel, which seeks to “create understanding and support for LGBT people in traditional Jewish communities.”
Most of these parents lived in Orthodox communities that were not welcoming or accepting of their LGBT children. There is such a feeling of “shonda” [shame] that many of these parents feel. And this is not from the Torah, but rather from the society in which they live. So, for them to spend an entire weekend in the company of people who could really relate to their challenges was a very affirming experience. There was a sense of “safe space” where fears could be expressed, tears could be shed, personal stories could be shared and confidentiality was upheld. The parents also brainstormed ways in which they could initiate conversations in their hometowns about creating more inclusion and understanding of their children.
Despite a lot of publicity, I was one of only three parents who came from Baltimore. It was frustrating to know that there had to be many other parents in my area who are dealing with a similar situation. Perhaps they are in denial or are still “in the closet” themselves about their child being LGBT. The time has come that we have to stop making this an uncomfortable topic of discussion. It just perpetuates the stigma. Moreover, there are so many people who have been suicidal due to the lack of family acceptance about their sexual identity. The Torah tells us, “Therefore, Choose life!” Wemust value the lives of each and every one of us.
The tranquil stream and the boulders give us a wonderful vision of unity for us to strive for. Just as they all exist in harmony, I appeal to everyone to live by the concept of “v’ahavta l’rayacha kamocha” [Love your neighbor as yourself]. When that day arrives there will be no need for this kind of retreat and no need for pseudonyms because the stigma will finally be gone.