Navigating a child's development can be a daunting task for parents. Each child brings unique potential and qualities into the world-and sometimes, parents need help from those in similar situations to understand how best to nurture that child, and help him or her become an integral part of the community.
Hannah*, a Jewish professional from Chicago, is the mom of a young child who is gender non-conforming. "Most little kids who are gender non-conforming are not transgender," she said. "We're doing the wait and see approach."
Joan's* daughter came out as a lesbian as a young high school student. "We kind of knew," Joan said. "It's not really been a hurdle that we had to overcome."
Hannah and Joan are members of Response Center's Parent Family Connection, a support and education group for parents and family members of Jewish Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer (LGBTQ) individuals.
"Our monthly support meetings are for parents looking for a safe space to talk about their experiences, questions or concerns," said Rachel Marro, Response Outreach and Prevention Specialist and PFC facilitator.
"I like that PFC is a specifically Jewish group. We can talk about all this gender stuff within Judaism," Hannah said.
Parenting a gender non-conforming child can be challenging, she said, especially when it comes to dealing with comments from family members or people at school. "Then there is your own pain and questioning. Where is this from? How do we support our kid?"
"The Response PFC provides a safe, confidential place to voice concerns and to learn about LGBTQ youth issues," said Debbie Dresner, Response Advisory Committee member and Parent Family Connection Co-Chair.
Now in its second year, the PFC includes parents and grandparents whose family members with gender issues range from as young as five to in their 20s. There is no fee to attend the meetings, and everyone is welcome. Group members can receive additional support through a mentoring program.
"The group gives people the opportunity to slow down, ask questions, reexamine their feelings, and maybe reframe the context from which those feelings come that causes them to have difficulty with a person they love," said Hollis Russinoff, a Response Board member.
Although her daughter has experienced acceptance from family members, Joan worries about intolerance. While her daughter was walking in their neighborhood, someone called her a "faggot."
"She said, 'I'm a girl,' and moved on," Joan said. "But, I am always concerned about her safety."
Hannah hopes her child will become secure and confident, that he will have friends - and that he will find a place within Judaism. "I guess that's everyone's concern, but maybe in my case it's heightened or slightly different because of the high rates of LBGTQ youth who try to commit suicide. A large percentage is bullied. You see the statistics and you worry."
"The age of someone coming out is getting younger, and there is a growing need for parents and families dealing with this reality to know where to turn," Dresner said. "Many surf the Internet for information from organizations like PFLAG (Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays), but nothing was out there from a Jewish perspective."
"I appreciate meeting other [Jewish] parents and just hearing from people in different stages of life and how they've approached things. I look forward to the meetings," Hannah said.
Last fall, PFC partnered with Emanuel Congregation and Congregation Or Chadash, to sponsor a film screening and panel discussion of "Melting Away," the first Israeli film to depict a family and their transgender teen. Response provides many other LGBTQ-focused programs that include training sessions for working with LGBTQ youth for professionals and parents; Hineini, a workshop that includes a documentary film and discussion focused on LGBTQ Jewish teens; and Summer Alliance, a weekly summer group for LBGTQ high school students and allies.
"Our staff at Response has been through multiple trainings on working with LGBTQ youth, so our counseling services, sexual healthcare clinic and leadership programs like Snowball are fully inclusive," Marro said.
"There is growing acceptance in Jewish and secular communities. We have come a long way so all children, teens, and young adults can experience much more of their lives in the open," Dresner said.
"I am so proud of the Jewish community, that we have this resource and support each other in this way," Hannah said.
For information on Response or the Parent & Family Connection, call (847) 676-0078 or visit the website at www.responsecenter.org.
Response is supported in part by the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.
*Names have been changed.
When a teen comes out to you
"Coming Out" is when a person tells someone else that he or she is gay, lesbian or bisexual. This means that person trusts you enough to be honest. What can you do to support that teen?
- Let the teen know that you still care for him or her. The main fear for people coming out is that they will be rejected by their family and friends.
- Do not say, "Are you sure?" When someone comes out, he or she has gone over this question thousands of times in his or her own mind.
- It's OK if you feel uncomfortable or upset - but it's important to separate your own feelings of discomfort from what you convey to the teen.
- Respect the teen's confidentiality. Telling others, friends or family must be done on the teen's schedule.
- Recognize that this is not something that needs to be reported to parents, clergy or your superiors. It is neither your responsibility nor your right to tell others.
- Learn about organizations (like Response) and publications that might help provide support to the teen.
- If someone came out to you and you feel badly about how you handled it, you can go back and try again. It's never too late.
Source: Keshet of Boston