Twelve Things To Talk About: An Orthodox Conversation Around LGBT Jews
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Twelve Things To Talk About: An Orthodox Conversation Around LGBT Jews

We are a group of many dozens of observant, Orthodox families from across the United States, including Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

We are just like most of you – with one exception: Our children are LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender). Each of our children told us on a fateful day some months or years ago that they are not heterosexual. It is who they are and who they will always be. And on March 7, just over one month ago we met face-to-face – many for the first time – for the second annual Parents’ Retreat, sponsored by the Eshel organization.

It is with this thought in mind that we would like to have virtual conversation with you. Let’s assume for the moment that some weeks or months ago a member of your immediate family approached you, telling you that he or she is LGBT. You love them and begin to think beyond yourself and your family and begin to consider your precious Jewish community. Here is where the conversation begins.
 
We start by asking for your understanding, respect and perhaps even acceptance of our children as members of the Orthodox community. While the medical and psychiatric community affirms that being homosexual is no longer considered an aberration or an illness, most Orthodox communities have not expressed the same acknowledgement and acceptance.

We are not going to tell you it was easy absorbing this news from our children.  

We had the same hopes for our children that you have for yours. But as hard as it has been for us, it has been a much more difficult journey for our children. We are not asking you to do the impossible and place yourselves exactly in our shoes. Rather we simply ask you to consider having this conversation in the spirit of Klal Yisrael, or all of Israel, a community conversation.

All conversations need a setting. Imagine yourselves sitting around the Shabbat table. You have just finished Kiddush and are about to eat. At the table are your family and a few friends. Think about the statements below and how you would respond or comment. 

1. As Orthodox Jews we believe that all human beings are created in the image of God. Have you considered how this core Jewish principle of human dignity might shape your view of LGBT people?
 
2. We believe that being LGBT is not a matter of choice. Whether or not you believe that homosexuality is a matter of choice, how might this affect your community’s policy of welcoming people who identify themselves as homosexual?

3. With regard to respecting privacy, do you or your rabbi ask congregants how they behave in the bedroom? Do you or your rabbi ask people in your congregation if they obey all mitzvot involving family purity laws? What would you do if you knew that such laws were not observed in private by others? Would you think such people should be excluded from participation in shul? 

4. Have you asked yourself what would happen if everyone who attends your minyan had to submit to an “aveyrah (transgression) Test,” that would include lashone harah (bad mouthing), genayvah (stealing), genayvat da’at (lying), tax cheating, spousal abuse and so on, and that flunking such a test would disqualify them from receiving any honors at the synagogue whatsoever? Do you realize that the “Gay Test” is one of the few that an Orthodox minyan seems to apply far more often than the “Aveyrah Test?” And do you realize that all of these (other) aveyrot are committed by choice?

5. Do you hear homophobic jokes in your community? What do you do when you hear them? Do you perform the commandment of hocheach tocheach at ameicha (rebuke your fellow Jew) and stand up for our children, relatives or friends who are the object of these so-called jokes? 

6. Have you asked yourself and your congregation if it is just the appearance of openly accepting LGBT individuals or couples into your shul and not any aspect of halacha, Jewish law that bothers you?

7. Do you realize that anywhere from 5 percent to 10 percent of the general population are and have always been LGBT and that the Jewish population is no different? (With a congregation of 300 this means 15-30 individuals are LGBT).  This percentage does not change based on any dress code.  Cloth, knitted, or leather kippas do not change the percentage and neither does the color or brim size of your hat, or the length of your skirt or sleeve or whether or not they cover their hair.

8. Do you realize that with these significant percentages someone in your extended family or social circles – child, brother, sister, grandchild, aunt or uncle, niece, nephew or friend – is, or will likely be, discovering that he or she is LGBT or has not yet shared this knowledge with other people?

9. Do you realize that when you chase an LGBT person from your congregation – either overtly or via social pressure – you might be encouraging that person to leave Orthodoxy and perhaps even Judaism altogether?

10. Do you know that by shunning an LGBT congregant, you are also shunning that individual’s family?

11. Did you know that twenty- to forty-percent of homeless youth are LGBT, most likely because their families have rejected them and they feel they have nowhere to go?   Did you know that suicide rates among LGBT youth are significantly higher than in the general youth population?

12. How well versed are your rabbis and lay leaders about LGBT issues or about the issues specific to counseling LGBT congregants or their family members?   

We are asking you to encourage your rabbi to respectfully consider these questions and to learn about the issues specific to counseling LGBT congregants and their family members. 

We are hopeful that in a few years all Orthodox communities will be able to have this conversation in an open forum that include all its members. Today that is not the case. By avoiding these issues or simply denying they exist, we are ignoring, rejecting, and losing LGBT Jews and their families. After all is said and done, these Jewish souls could be our sons, daughters, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, parents, neighbors, or friends.   

Thank you,
Orthodox Parents of LGBT Children

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