Orthodox Parents of LGBTQ Kids Seek Inclusion

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By Victoria Brown

Mindy Sager Dickler’s guiding philosophy is ahavas Yisrael — love for fellow Jews.

“There’s no exceptions. We have a responsibility to love one another and not to judge one another. Those should be overriding principles,” said Dickler, president and co-founder of JPride Baltimore and an Orthodox mother of a gay child. “There certainly should be no room for homophobia any place in our society, including in our Orthodox communities.”

Eshel, an organization devoted to promoting the acceptance of LGBTQ youth in the Orthodox community, recently published results from a survey conducted at its annual retreat in November. The report details the desires of parents of LGBTQ children.

“We want you to know how we feel,” the report’s opening said, “and what you can do to change the often negative and sometimes bigoted viewpoints you express.”

The survey, titled “Moving Forward: A Request from Orthodox Parents with LGBTQ Children,” found that 62 percent of LGBTQ children had left Orthodoxy (compared to the findings of a Pew study that 83 percent of Jewish adults raised Orthodox remain Orthodox).

The survey found that parents felt that privately discussing LGBTQ experiences with rabbis has not changed overall community mentalities toward LGBTQ individuals. The survey cites the need for Orthodox institutions to reassess their stances on LGBTQ individuals in the community and “reach out to the broader community to begin a positive dialogue,” the survey said. More parents felt the messaging of national Orthodox organizations should change (37 percent) as opposed to the messaging of their pulpit rabbis (27.5 percent).

The survey also found that every parent felt that day schools needed to be doing something different to address bullying and discrimination against LGBTQ children. More than 63 percent suggested mandated training for faculty and staff while just under 32 percent wanted schools to publish an inclusion policy.

“One of the biggest surprises for us is that the majority of parents want their children to be in a happy relationship, whether it’s a same-sex partner, or a partner of their choice, and not be celibate,” Eshel Executive Director Miryam Kabakov said.

Dickler said that LGBTQ children of Orthodox families “have to make a choice between being a part of the LGBT community … and being affiliated with the Jewish community,” and that it shouldn’t be that way. The next steps toward greater equality and acceptance in Jewish Orthodox communities, Dickler said, are “in the hands of the rabbi and the Jewish leaders.”

Kabakov hopes that rabbis take notice of the survey and recognize that families of LGBTQ congregants want acceptance and inclusion from them.

Other steps Kabakov hopes come out of the survey’s publication include education for staff and faculty at Jewish day schools and a greater discussion among rabbis about the issues facing their LGBTQ congregants. Kabakov also hopes that rabbinic associations will behave differerently with rabbis who are friendly to the LGBTQ community. She cited examples of the threats to remove a mashgiach’s certification abilities and another rabbi’s ability to build an eruv.

“They hold a lot of power and they use it to shut down discussions,” she said.

Dickler is ready for the conversation to change.

“Time is up,” she said. “It’s time to create an understanding that [LGBTQ people] are in our communities, are in our families, they’re in our homes and they’re welcome just as much as any other Jew.”

Victoria Brown is a staff writer for the Baltimore Jewish Times, an affiliated publication of the Jewish Exponent.

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