A pioneering survey of Orthodox parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children released last week found that many families remain closeted in their communities because of disapproval from rabbis or other community leaders.
Of the over 100 parents surveyed from across the country, nearly a third of respondents (27 percent) said they viewed their rabbi or community as homophobic, and over 73 percent of parents said there have been no public forums or classes on the topic of LGBT Jews in their community. According to the study, Orthodox day schools do not make public policy statements about the treatment or admission of LGBT students or staff or about teacher training on the subject. Eshel, a nonprofit organization that aims to create community and acceptance for LGBT Jews and their families in Orthodox communities, conducted the survey. The organization is set to host its fourth annual parent retreat in May.
Among the survey’s other key findings was that synagogue rabbis are among the last resources parents seek out for help when their child comes out, despite an increased focus on counseling across rabbinic school curricula. Yeshiva University’s RIETS program, the largest Orthodox rabbinical school in America, requires two semesters of pastoral psychology as part of the core curriculum, and even offers a dual master’s program with the Wurzweiler School of Social Work.
Still, of the 80 percent of parents who chose to seek outside help, only 9 percent of parents interviewed chose to seek assistance from their synagogue rabbi.
“Parents are legitimately concerned that a rabbi’s response will only be more wounding,” said Rabbi Steven Greenberg, the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi and co-director of Eshel. “They are fearful that a rabbi will prioritize his role as defender of the tradition, and ultimately make matters worse.” Though congregants would approach a rabbi about a financial crisis or an extramarital affair, “no one challenges the moral reasonability of that prohibition,” he said. “Rabbis would be able to reflect a concern for the norm of loyalty while being compassionate to the difficulties people face. Here the rabbi is struggling with a text and tradition that is actually itself causing the suffering.” This situation leaves rabbis “utterly conflicted,” which makes it challenging for parents to seek their support, he added.
“While he was personally kind, he continued to preach that LGBT people can’t be reconciled with Orthodox Judaism,” she said. Though they have remained in the community, her family has come up against some pitying attitudes, though many in the community have been “completely accepting.”
“Trans is harder not to talk about than being gay. When someone asks, ‘How are the boys?’” she said, “you have to mention that one of the boys is now a girl.”
A strange role reversal often takes place when a LGBT child comes out to his or her Orthodox parents, said Rabbi Greenberg. “Parents will often ask the child not to tell anybody, as they try to come to terms with this new reality,” he said. “The child has to be the one to assure that parent that it’s going to be alright.”
One parent, who asked that we not use her name for privacy reasons, described the response she had when her 16-year-old son came out to her when he was 14.
“It’s an amazing thing — when a kid comes out of the closet, sometimes the parents go right back in,” she said. Her son’s revelation caused her to question her role in the community, she said. After coming back from a pluralistic LGBT Shabbaton, she said her son told her that many of the participants from Reform and Conservative backgrounds described how Judaism has given them a place to be themselves.
“It’s hard to know that for my son, it’s been the exact opposite. Orthodox Judaism is where he feels he doesn’t have a place — where he said he feels like an ‘abomination.’ Ultimately, that makes me question our place. You raise your children to want to be in this community, and then the community tells them we want you — but not that way.”
She has since switched her son from an Orthodox high school to a pluralistic Jewish high school. The change has been essential to his happiness, she said. “He now feels he can be fully himself, and he’s not angry anymore.”
Still, she is insistent that the larger Orthodox world recognizes the LGBT conversation as a community issue, rather than just a case-by-case question. “This is not just about one person getting an aliyah or not,” she said. “It’s about understanding that each LGBT child is connected to a family, and each family is connected to other families. The patchwork of our community will be damaged if we try to uproot one thread here, another thread there.”
Read more at https://www.thejewishweek.com/news/new-york/despite-gains-lgbt-jews-frum-families-still-feeling-alienated#kgJiAAxYh5c1BIsF.99