Two months after singer Harel Skaat came out of the closet, he had a festive birthday performance at Shuni’s Amphitheater in Israel. At that performance his mother, Ahuva, chose to voice her support in a very public way. “I asked his manager to come on the stage and congratulate him for his birthday. Harel didn’t know about my initiative, if he had known he wouldn’t have agreed. I went onstage, wished him Mazel Tov, and took the opportunity to convey a message to the audience – that us as a family love Harel and are very proud of him, and if there is one person in the audience who is in the closet, he should know there’s nothing to fear because the worst is to live with the secret.”
Skaat’s coming out (today he’s 36 years old) took place after years of rumors, in a TV documentary that was broadcast just before the Eurovision Song Contest, when Harel represented Israel in 2010. Only a day before the broadcast he had the courage to tell his parents about the documentary and the bomb he was going to drop in it. “He didn’t have to say explicitly, he said there was going to be a documentary where he says new things about himself, and as soon as he said that I already knew what he meant,” she says.
How was it clear to you?
“I heard the gossip all around, and at the end of the day, a mother sees, even if she represses it. He always went out with pretty girls, so I said to myself: ‘You’re just making yourself crazy, he’s not a boy who hides, if he had something to say he would have said.’ In retrospect, I could’ve been able to put together this puzzle from all sorts of phrases that he had said in all the interviews he gave, he hinted at it all the time. One day there was an interview on TV with someone who came out of the closet and he said to me: ‘What would you say if I were like that?’ As an intelligent mother, I didn’t have to think twice. ”
After her public announcement Ahuva joined support group of Tehila (support for parents and family members of the LGBT community) “to learn how to keep the family together after the big bomb,” she says. “I felt that I was the backbone of the whole family and that I had to be strong, I had to be supportive of my mother, my father and mother-in-law, and basically everyone, but I didn’t have where to draw my strength from. At one point I took a group-leading class, because I felt I have something to contribute.”
Today Ahuva lectures to the public about her story and leads groups of parents at Tehila, voluntarily. “I’m not here because of Harel, but because of me,” she explains. “I’m here for me and for the parents whose children come out of the closet and don’t know how to deal with it. I want to help because after all it wasn’t easy for me, too. They ask me a lot in the lectures: ‘Why did you have to wait for the movie, you heard the gossip around – didn’t you ask him?’ No, I did not ask him. I asked myself, Yes. I talked about it a lot with my husband Avner, and he said: ‘Forget about this nonsense, because he is famous they pick on him.'”
While digesting Harel’s news, her second son, Daniel (28), a DJ and a musician himself, who will soon start working as a flight attendant with El Al, came out of the closet. “He called and said he was coming on Friday for dinner and he wanted to talk to me alone, I was surprised by the formality, I thought he needed money, probably a serious amount if he prepared me like that. I didn’t see this coming. It took him a year to come out of the closet after Harel, because he was afraid of what it would do to us as parents to two, he threw another bomb at us.”
More than Harel?
“Of course, five pounds on my head. We really didn’t see it in him. As a veteran kindergarten teacher, I can tell you that there are children on whom you can see it from kindergarten, and that’s why it was so hard to accept it. He had lot of girls sleeping over in the house, and today my friends from Tehila laugh and tell me: ‘That’s exactly the sign that it’s that.'”
How did he tell you?
“He said to me, ‘Mom, what would you say if I told you I was like Harel?’ I said to him: ‘What like Harel? a singer? And he said: ‘Not a singer, gay.’ he threw it straight and I was in shock, I laughed out loud, embarrassed. It was a very bad response – I’m not perfect either. I bounced back quickly, hugged him and said: ‘leave Dad to me, there’s no need to bother him with it on a Friday night. ”
What went through your mind?
“That something is screwed up here, it can’t be, I blamed myself, maybe something in the genetic mix of Iraqi and Yemenite. Today I tell parents in my lectures: It’s all bullshit, no one is to blame.”
How did you tell Avner?
“On Saturday he asked me what Daniel wanted, so I told him and it was like a big hammer on his head. He asked me: ‘Ahuva, where were we wrong, what did we do wrong? It took him a long time to understand that it doesn’t have anything to do with him nor the education that he gave the kids. I won’t say primitive, but at first he tried to talk about all kinds of miracle drugs and treatments until he got out of it. I remember the first thing he asked Harel was if he was sure. And Harel came out at 28, not at 14. Of course he was sure. But Avner wanted to hear the doubt. It seems to me that for a father it’s more difficult to understand that his son is gay than to his mother, as if something is wrong with his masculinity. Today Avner is completely in another place.”
Do you ask yourself sometimes how it happened that both of them?
“You know how much digging in the Internet I’ve done? I read a lot of articles, and got very frustrated. There are many families of two and even three. I don’t know to say if it’s genetic, it doesn’t have an unequivocal answer. Sometimes I’m angry with myself and think that as a mother I should have seen it before and be there for them. That’s a heavy burden, this secret. They put on a mask every morning and walked with it all day, and we didn’t know.”
When Harel and Daniel came out of the closet, Ahuva start receiving a lot of phone calls from young people who wanted to consult with her about how to tell their parents, and also from parents who asked how to deal with that. “It seems as if I was some sort of a role model for them,” she says. “I met with a lot of people, and took Avner to every meeting, because it was still hard for him to deal with that. Three years ago, I was invited by the welfare department of the Kfar Saba municipality to participate in a special evening they held in cooperation with Tehila to mark Pride Month. They wanted Harel to perform and that I would talk about our story. After this evening they began to invite me to lectures all over the country, and I went happily because I see it as a mission.
“My lecture is called ‘these are my children,’ because these are my children and I love them dearly. In my school lectures I say: ‘Why is every other curse of you is ‘homo,’ homo is not a curse.’ Now I’m fighting to get the subject into the curriculum, because if we change the awareness at a young age, the stigmas will disappear and so will the homophobia.
Have you encountered homophobia?
“Not directly, but when Harel came out a couple of very good friends of ours disappeared. I wasn’t angry with them, I know it’s not from a bad place, but from embarrassment, they just didn’t know what to say. Today they are still our friends, but there is homophobia, and ten years ago it was much worse. We’ve come a little further, partially thanks to Tehila, because this organization is doing a sacred job in to illuminate stigmas against LGBT people. We receive reports on parents who abandon their child, who say to him: ‘I wish you were dead,’ or ‘it’s a shame that we gave birth to you.’ That sounds unbelievable, but that’s what happens. Tehila’s people are everywhere, including gay pride parades. ”
Have you ever been to a pride parade?
“I went once, and it was the first and last time, from the very beginning I was not so related to it, because the media only highlights the yellow, the nudity on the floats. Imagine what it does to a parent whose kid is gay and watches the parade on TV and that’s the only thing he’s exposed to? This parent wants to burry himself. It’s too bad they don’t show the regular marchers, people like you and me, who come there with the goal to eliminate homophobia. I know that the dancers on the trucks are also part of the community, but it’s not just them. It looks bad, really disgusting.”
To Harel’s boyfriend, the model and the businessman Idan Roll (34), she calls “my son-in-law,” even though their wedding has not yet officially taken place. “I love the idea of a wedding, and Harel officiates a lot of weddings, so why shouldn’t he marry, but I don’t pressure and don’t interfere in that, it’s personal.”
How was Idan received at your home?
“We love him very much and we are in great touch with his amazing parents, we once celebrated a holiday together. The connection between me and Idan is amazing, I talk to him on the phone more than I do with Harel. He’s contributing so much to the family and I’m so satisfy with this relationship. I hope they will soon have kids because they really want to, and they’re going to be great parents. One of the biggest fears of parents of gays is what’s going to happen with grandchildren, but both Harel and Daniel said to me: ‘Mom, don’t worry, you’ll have grandchildren from us.’ It’s a shame that gays don’t get to adopt children and are not allowed to do surrogacy in Israel. It’s unfair.”
When rabbis talk against homosexuality, does that make you angry?
“It doesn’t. They can talk. I don’t have anything against religion and against the orthodox. I just want to tell them that every person is created in the image of God, and that is what is tattooed on Harel’s hand. Not all religious people speak like that, I have orthodox friends, at the beginning I was afraid how they will accept it, but they embraced me with love. ”
The fact that Harel is famous makes people listen to you more?
“Yes, if I came as an anonymous mother, the lecture would have a different effect, but when I talk about someone the whole audience knows, it’s easier to relate. They know who my son is, how smart and beautiful he is, they also know his partner and say: ‘They’ve succeeded in life.’ That’s what I want to convey.”
What does Harel and Daniel say about your activity?
“They are pleased. Of course, I asked if they were allowing me and I got the blessing from them. It’s not obvious. The fact that we are famous holds maybe a minute, but then the burden of proof is on me. I have the ability to hold an audience and fascinate with what I say.
What message is most important to you to convey?
“The most important thing is for the children to be happy, to live the way they want to live, not the way we want them to live. I want to tell people: It’s not easy, but we live in peace with that, and the sky has not fallen.”