By Alison Walsh, Parents of Jewish Gays and Lesbians member
Being myself right handed and “straight”, it never crossed my mind that my baby son David could be left-handed or gay.
Being left-handed is thankfully no longer taboo but still his teacher felt she needed my permission to teach him to write with his left hand so that he wouldn’t struggle with writing. Sadly, being gay is still taboo and let’s face it, we largely leave our gay children to struggle on their own.
My son has never been one to tell or live a lie and when he was fifteen, he told us he’s gay. Did I already know? No, of course not. He had had a close female friend and never a boyfriend.
When his teacher told me that my son was left-handed, it was a surprise but not one I felt any fear or guilt about. We all know being gay is equally a fact of life. If your friend’s son was gay, you would say, “So what? That he should be happy and healthy!” But when it is your child, it is different.
My first thought – if he has never had a boyfriend, how can he know? How stupid! If he had said he fancied a girl but had never had a girlfriend; I would never have questioned his feelings so why the other way round?
By the next day, the penny had dropped. OK, my son’s gay. But then came the fears:
He is only fifteen. Finding a girlfriend would be easy but how would he ever find a boyfriend his age? I wanted him to stay safe.
His teachers praised him for his hard work and how he helped others. Would they think less of him if they knew he was gay?
He was a leader on Jewish summer camp. Would he still be trusted as a good role model?
I made the mistake of internet searching and finding those hate-fuelled sites of how an “unhealthy” parent-child relationship or abuse could turn a child gay. It made me feel guilty and scared – which, of course, is how the whole taboo thing works and why the stigma lives on. (And just for the record – my son comes from a loving home where he feels he can be himself and has never been abused.)
I googled and rung “Parents of Jewish Gays and Lesbians”. Why Jewish? I may not count as being religious but we have always done Friday night and my Jewishness is where my roots belong. I needed a safe place where I could talk to like-minded souls.
Going into the first meeting of “Parents of Jewish Gays and Lesbians” was scary. My fears about anti-Semitism plus homophobia all came together –would it be safe to go?
And then the thought – what would they be like, these other parents? When I first went to University, I casually mentioned to a new friend that I was Jewish. She was shocked, saying “I thought you were normal!”
She had never met a Jew and didn’t know what to think or fear. I suppose I had much the same sort of fear about meeting parents of gay children. Would they not be normal?
I needn’t have worried. We couldn’t have felt more welcomed. Imagine transporting a section of warm-hearted, conventional, United Synagogue members into a sitting room with tea and cake and there you have it. Or perhaps not – as there was really quite a mix of Jewish denominations. Anyway, they were normal and that was good to see.
Years later now and in my turn, I am writing this so that others know of the important work that the group does. Set up in May 1996, “Parents of Jewish Gays and Lesbians” exists to be there for all those parents who have felt they had no-one to turn to in the Jewish community for support and advice.
We are not counsellors. Some parents or grandparents who phone us or come to a meeting have just learnt that their child/ grandchild is gay and want to speak to other parents confidentially about concerns or what they are finding difficult to deal with.
What would you do if one of your children looked you in the face and told you he/she was lesbian or gay?
“How are we going to cope with this?”
“What do we need to say or do for our child’s happiness and health?”
“Should I send my child to a Jewish school if he/she may be gay?”
“How can we tell our family and friends -and how will they react to this news?”
“I am active in the synagogue community and would love to be truthful, but dare I?”
We aim to be a voice in the Jewish community to bring love and understanding to bear on ‘the Elephant in the room’. Whether you would like an understanding ear or feel positive about the situation and ready to give support to others, do please get in touch.
You can phone in confidence Alison on 0780 6636089 for London or Elaine on 07903 768918 for Leeds/ Manchester or email us at email@example.com. Information about the group can be found on www.parentsofjewishgaysandlesbians.co.uk.
How we treat our gay children isn’t fair.
We all want our children to feel loved, accepted and perhaps one day know the joy and fulfilment of being in a loving relationship.
We need to talk about the elephant in the room.
- Parents of Jewish Gays and Lesbians meet tomorrow night in a private home in Hendon on Tuesday 24th June 8pm. Anyone interested in supporting the meeting or who would generally just like someone to talk to should phone Alison on 0780 6636089 or email firstname.lastname@example.org