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.