Keshet is pretty excited about The Guys Next Door, a feature-length documentary that tells the story of Erik and Sandro, a gay couple with two daughters birthed by their friend Rachel. (Check out the trailer below!)
We had the chance to chat with Amy Geller, who is co-producing and directing the film along with Allie Humenuk. Amy, who was the Artistic Director of the Boston Jewish Film Festival from 2012-2014, came across Erik, Sandro, and Rachel’s story through an alumni connection at her college, and was inspired to share their experiences.
Amy and Allie spent three and a half years filming The Guys Next Door—which includes, as Amy puts it, “the ultimate act of tzedakah.” Rachel, who is in her 40s and married to her husband Tony, has three biological children of her own. According to Amy, “by helping her gay friends to have daughters, Rachel makes a deeply personal decision that has political implications. With the support of Tony and their children, she affirms gay rights and same-sex parenting.”
Rachel shared how her Jewish faith inspired her to act as a surrogate for Erik and Sandro:
I am Jewish and my parents raised me to believe in equality and giving to others in whatever ways we can. As a mother now, it is important for me to continue living the foundation of those (Jewish) values, and teach them to my children. My experience in helping my good friends, Erik and Sandro, be able to have children, symbolizes to me the notion of Tikkun Olam—my little part in helping heal the world. It struck me as incredibly unfair that my husband and I could so easily have children, and that for two gay men to have children would be such a hardship, particularly financial. I believe that being able to help them have their daughters not only benefits them, but also benefits my family, and really, benefits the world around us. My hope is that it helps people see that family can look like many different and wonderful things, and how two gay men, given the opportunity, can create a beautiful home filled with love and strong values, just as well as a heterosexual couple can.
We can’t wait to see the film when it’s finished! If you’re inspired by Erik and Sandro’s love—or Rachel’s act of tzedakah—you can help support the film through its Kickstarter campaign.
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Carson’s last post showed how small changes in language could be powerful signals that help open conversations, and listening for the question behind the question can help you get to the answer your kid really needs. But how do we get over our fear of sputtering to a confused stop, of making a mess in a sensitive situation?
My current and recent teen interviews revealed that parental willingness to show discomfort, surprise, and a lack of knowledge actually turn out to be seeds of strength to help their kids.
“One beautiful thing about my son is that through all these questions of mine he just kept bringing me information, articles, and websites. So I would advise any parent, always be open to learning more because it is amazing what you can learn from your children.” —MS
Seeing the parents “behind the curtain,” like the struggling Wizard of Oz, is fine as long as what they see is that you are indeed trying, or even thinking about trying.
“It’s universal that kids will complain about how their parents reacted [to coming out news], but that’s OK. Don’t feel shame or guilt over your first reaction. Deal with it honestly, and then just be supportive.”—AR
“It took me 4 years between realizing that I was queer and coming out. I don’t think it will take my parents quite that long. It’s been two years and they may still not be fully there, but it’s OK.”—AA
“I wanted my parents to at least acknowledge that they might move from where they were to a different place, but they wouldn’t, at first. We had terrible fights.”—IK
“I was touched after I first came out that my parents obsessed over recommending movies with gay characters in them even if they were really bad movies. I didn’t want to watch them, or finish them if we had started, but I knew they were trying.”—EL
“It’s kind of awkward when my boyfriend comes over. [My dad] doesn’t know how to talk to him. [Not the same as when his older sister brought home her first boyfriend.] It’s weird because he doesn’t know if he should be all guy-to-guy with him, like ‘Hey, what’s up,’ or what. I can understand how he feels because even I think it’s weird that I should have a boyfriend sometimes.”—TA
With respect to our words, is it better to wait or jump in bravely?
“Parents are always growing emotionally too. With that comes better impulse control. Parents would do well to try to sit on their own feelings and rage and just listen.”—LB
“The first time we met the boyfriend, I could tell my son was really uptight. I don’t really interrogate the boyfriends of either my daughter or my son, and I could tell when I shook his hand that he was very bright and personable. But I knew they both were nervous. I empathized! I knew my job was to try to make the boyfriend more comfortable, or at least less uncomfortable.”—MA
Some of my sources felt there was a practical benefit of parental stumbling around their kids’ gender or orientation.
“Sometimes parents’ less-than-full acceptance or slowness in coming to acceptance can actually help prepare kids for the outside world. It’s a kind of tough love.”—LB
“You don’t want to teach your child that the world is an evil place, but there are definitely people out there who will call him names or be mean, and you have to prepare a kid for that somehow.”—SH
We don’t sugar-coat messages to our kids about the world’s expectations regarding punctuality, dress codes, job interview etiquette, the importance of human spell-checking, etc. In a closer parallel, as our kids start moving around independently, we teach them street-wise behavior to make them less-likely crime targets. But conformity to majority expectations or safe practices in these matters rarely threaten teens’ developing sense of self (despite what they may say about the stifling oppression of dress codes).
Gender and orientation, on the other hand, are central to identity.
And even young kids see that heterosexual and cis-gendered are “normal” and anything else is outside the majority, even if they have not directly seen and understood homophobia. So this calls for more nuance in the “real world” prep lessons from parents.
“As parents, we have fears, but if we ask for help we can reduce the problems our kids face… He knew I was confused but he also knew I was there for him no matter what. I think feeling your 100% support is very important for them, and then they become your support too.”—MS
“For parents who want their kids not to have such a hard life, if they know they have their parents full support it eliminates the hardest problem they’ll ever face.”—BK
“It’s how they show the worry that matters. If you assume the world is all homophobic, you want the kid to hide it, but the message that you shouldn’t have to hide it is much better.”—KP
“It’s important to acknowledge that a lot of parents have grief, even if they are progressive. You had a dream of your kid’s life, and now it won’t be like that. My mom was completely worried that I’d be lonely and sad. She went to a PFLAG meeting [see also Keshet's Parent & Family Connection], met other parents and found out that this wasn’t going to be the case. Then she became an activist.”—AR
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We intuitively know that little things like word choice and facial expressions matter, but the right actions and reactions often don’t spring readily to mind in the moment. And—no pressure!—the stakes are kinda high. This theme emerged in the very first interview I did for my website.
“Parents can make it a self-fulfilling prophecy: they think [their child’s life as a queer person] is going to be hard, so they don’t stand up for them when they could, and indeed, life becomes harder than it needed to be.”—TH
Yet, parents have their own coming out process to go through, from zero to understanding to advocate, on an extremely compressed schedule. But my interviews with teens and former teens brought welcome news: “good” parents don’t have to be perfect. Attention to some little things, even if uneven or awkwardly done, make a big difference.
1. A few small signals, or invitations to open a conversation, might seem to be ignored in the moment but will register:
“My grandfather, who was 94 when he died, used to watch James Bond movies with me. One day, out of the blue he paused the movie and asked me what I thought of gay marriage, and said he agreed with it. My grandparents had a house on Fire Island for years (I’m still mad they sold it) and he said they had partied with gay people out there. Taking time to talk and voice support makes a huge difference. Recently I was driving out to Long Island with my dad and there was news on the radio about the Iowa Caucus. They mentioned the Republican pledge to reverse gay marriage. My dad was reading, only half paying attention, but his reflexive grunt of disapproval was really wonderful.”—PO
“My mom always said, ‘You can talk to me about anything. The most important thing is to respect your body.’ She would say that sometimes to try to spark a conversation, and I got annoyed and angry at the time, but it was actually really important. I think it’s appropriate for parents to bring their questions and concerns. In a way, I would be more offended by a parent not being honest with their reactions even if it is painful or shows prejudice.”—MS
Even in an era when same-sex marriage gains ground quickly, we should not underestimate the Mount Everest-like weight and carbon dioxide-like pervasiveness of the old expectations.
“A daughter of a two-mom family living in an LGBTQ-friendly neighborhood came home from pre-school and asked one of her moms if she was sure she wasn’t really a man. And many of her classmates had gay or lesbian parents.”—TH
2. And yet, making some small changes in language, even if you forget and don’t do it every time, can add up.
“Parents can make an effort to not create a heteronormative environment, like by not asking ‘Do you have a girlfriend?’ but ‘Are you seeing someone?’”—PO
“And don’t express relief when your kid reveals an interest in someone of the opposite sex. It undermines an opening for any discussion about sexual confusion, for your own kid or someone she knows.”—KW
“I am surprised sometimes by how many people are still using the word “choice,” and thereby implying that it’s a moral defect.”—BK
3. Taking the time to listen a little deeper can show what your kid really needs.
“The after-school program at my son’s nursery school had different leaders than the day program. I didn’t realize the difference in their attitudes. My son hated after-school because they made him go outside and play soccer with the other boys, while the girls could stay inside and play pretend games. He said he hated the whole thing, and I did not probe as to why. Not until he was 18 and out, and after I had started the Spanish-speaking parent support group [at the nursery school], did we sit down with the pre-school director who wanted to improve the school’s policies around gender expression. That was a big step in the healing process for him and for me.”—LM
“You have to pay careful attention to the question that’s really being asked, which is often, ‘Having two mommies is different, but is it OK?’ [Kids] all come with a bit of baggage, even from liberal families.”—BK
In movies and on TV the dialogue may be emotionally fraught, but proceeds smoothly.
In real life, we have to write our scripts and deliver them at the same time, and the results (at my house anyway) are rarely pretty. Even when I eventually get across the point I was just realizing was the truly important one, I often feel I haven’t done it very well.
But my research shows that matters much less than we parents think.
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With the first month of 2015 behind us, we thought we’d share our most popular blog posts of the past year. These are stories of coming out, of finding community, and of enacting change.
What are the stories you want to hear in 2015?
Coming Out & Staying With My Husband: Faina realized that being true to herself meant living authentically as a lesbian—and also returning to her husband and children.
When Anti-Semitism Hits Close to Home: When anti-Semitism hit close to home, the safety of this quiet community was put into question.
Looking Forward and Looking Back: On Friendships and Transitions: Two long-time friends sit down to reflect on how they kept their friendship strong when gender and pronouns shifted.
Coming Out at Shabbat Dinner: Take a minute to watch this video of this Jewish teen coming out to his family at Shabbat dinner. How much stronger will our Jewish community be when no one is left out?
Transgender Day of Remembrance and the Life of Sarah: How do we take the lessons from the Torah portion on the life of Sarah and create a space for the memory of transgender individuals?
Coming Out for Two: Sara’s coming out story is a little different— before coming out herself, her brother asked her to help him come out to their mother.
One Family’s Wish for a World without Gender Roles: When one Jewish couple put their child in daycare they faced struggles surrounding gender they hadn’t anticipated.
The Coming Out Process: Coming out as trans isn’t simple. Before coming out to his community, this rabbi had to come out to himself.
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As a member of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, Keshet is proud to join with many of our fellow social justice organizations in supporting this campaign for racial justice. As an organization working for LGBT equality, we view our struggle as part of a broader movement for equality, dignity, and justice for all people. With gratitude to our friends at Bend the Arc for providing the tools and framework for this action.
The 114th Congress began last week in the midst of a profound and continuing effort to confront — and end — systemic racism in America. Let’s put this struggle at the top of the agenda for the new Congress.
The sustained outcry over the deaths of unarmed black people at the hands of police — and the failure of the justice system to address those killings — is forcing this nation to address the unhealed scars of our past.
The pattern is all too clear. In the past few years, young black males in this country have been 21 times more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts.
This must stop. Only when every black life matters in America, will every life in America matter.
Keshet is joining with Bend the Arc and other Jewish organizations to take the demands from Ferguson Action to Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader McConnell, urging that they prioritize the unfinished business of addressing racial injustice in our society. Add your signature.
Back in the Civil Rights era, American Jews stood with our sisters and brothers in the struggle for full equality and dignity for every member of our society. It’s time to be united again.
Help us send Congress a strong message that the struggle for full equality and dignity for every member of our society is a top priority for American Jews. And they should make history by making it their top priority as well.
Editors note: Thanks for all of your support! This campaign is now closed.
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In December Keshet had a chance to work with Kim of Hebrica Judaic Art. Kim’s story—she’s a convert to Judaism who grew up in the segregated South—made quite an impression on me, so I welcomed the opportunity to chat more with the artist. We started our conversation with a question about why working with Keshet made sense for Kim’s Jewish (and artistic) values. “I feel very strongly about Jewish togetherness,” she shared. “All Jews, either born to it or having chosen it, all levels of observance, all walks of life. The Torah and all the holiness of Judaism belong to all Jews, equally.”
Kim’s personal story is intertwined with her discovery of Judaic artist. Her journey started in the segregated American south and involved converting to Judaism in order to find a new way of expressing herself.
Growing up in the segregated South, color and class distinctions were finely drawn, but Judaism was scarcely on the radar. I had Jewish friends, but I don’t think Judaism was well understood in the “buckle” of the Bible Belt. I didn’t really have a religion myself. And art was just something I did for my own amusement, or for friends.
All my life, I had always done some kind of art…pen-and-ink, pencil, charcoal…everything in black-and-white.
And then I converted to Judaism. Overnight, literally, I began working in color…paints, watercolors, pastels. It was so odd to me. I had always been such a black-and-white kind of gal (ask my husband; he says I don’t see any shades of gray). Where did this come from? Why did I suddenly start seeing the world in color? The truth is that I have no idea. I only know that it happened.
And then I went to Israel; Jerusalem, actually, for the first time, for a month. You might think there’s not much color in Jerusalem. After all, it’s in the Judean desert. And all the buildings are made from this kind of sandstone that goes from a light blond in the morning to blazing white in the heat of the day, to a golden glow in the afternoon. But colors, not so much. Yet, I saw them.
Jerusalem wasn’t Kim’s only source of inspiration. The idea of “hiddur mitzvah,” or doing a commandment beautifully, informs her art, as well as the texts themselves.
The sacred texts of Judaism inspire my creative work. The first time I saw a page of Hebrew, I was captivated and made up my mind to learn the language. The shapes of the letters are so beautiful, from the very precise Torah style to looser ones and even fonts I sort of invented.
The pursuit of art draws me deeper into the text. That’s how I learn, and a papercut becomes almost a meditation on the subject. Some people are great at praying, or visiting the sick, or cooking for the oneg, or teaching in the religious school. I cut paper. And I hope that, when a piece is done, someone will look at it and say to themselves, wow. That really touches me. Or, I should look into that a little more.
Kim Phillips was certified in pararabbinics at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati and studied at Pardes Institute in Jerusalem. There, she found the creative spark for Hebrica, her Judaic art. Visit her website to see more of Kim’s art.
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Last month, an article entitled to Warning: Hollywood’s Coming For Your Home and Children! by Robert C. Avrech appeared in the Jewish Action magazine.
One morning, shortly after this issue of the magazine reached homes, I received an email from a friend who was extremely upset by this article and its vehement and mean-spirited diatribe against our homosexual children and members of the community.
In short, Mr. Avrech posits his view of what a moral community is and it does not include our LGBTQ members—nor does it include divorced families, single moms, and a whole litany of others he considers to not be upright, including all hues of feminism.
Among many other things, the author laments the gay couple in Modern Family and the fact that “homosexual radicals” have pressured A&E to cancel Duck Dynasty because “the far left has demonized Phil Robertson, the family patriarch as a homophobe because he supports traditional marriage.” Parenthetically, it is important to remember that the patriarch of the show Duck Dynasty was called homophobic not because he supports traditional marriage but because he compared homosexuality to bestiality and other vile stereotypes.
Further, Avrech states, “Today it is militant homosexuals who drive the agenda. Tomorrow it will be sharia-yearning Islamists demanding sitcoms about happy-go-lucky polygamists.” To call this overtly and supremely offensive does not even begin to address the problem with such flawed reasoning. His use of histrionics does not do honor to him nor to the magazine that published this piece.
So, why am I and so many other parents and families in the Orthodox community so upset? This magazine comes into Orthodox homes several times over the course of the year. For about 10–13% of us, just as in the general community and in the larger Jewish community, our homes include LGBTQ loved ones.
I return to the email I received from my friend a month ago.
My friend, who has a gay child and is part of our ESHEL community of Orthodox LGBTQ Jews and their families, was so hurt and devastated by this article. Within a few days of the article being published, about nine families in the same situation were sending emails back and forth. During that time a letter was crafted and sent to the editor of Jewish Action. I still do not know whether or not the magazine will publish the letter.
The problem we in the Orthodox community confront is that seemingly moderate venues still lean to the right in terms of lack of acceptance and honest discussion of what the challenges are, and instead opt for immediate dismissal.
Dismissal of our beautiful, intelligent, and amazing children and family members is not something we can live with or accept. Judaism does not teach to do this but rather espouses maxims for living such as “judge the other favorably” and “do not judge another person until you have reached his place.”
Further, there are texts that clearly cause us to question time held notions of binary categories of sexuality. We know in modern medicine about the continuum of how The Creator of All has created us and this is even acknowledged in our Jewish texts (check out Mishnah Bikkurim, Chapter Four as a wonderful example).
Inclusion and acceptance of others has always been a challenge in Jewish Law. Included in those categories of how and if one should be included are women, those who have mental defects or illness, the lame, the hearing impaired, and yes, those of us who are left-handed!
However, what is fascinating to me about Jewish law is the great extent to which our venerated teachers of old will go to in trying to include as many as possible and to be gentle and caring to all, as we find in Masechet Hagiga, for those of you who want yet another substantial text reference.
As a Modern Orthodox Jew (or as I like to call it, a Halachically observant and accepting of the multi-vocality of Jewish expression Jew), I find these texts and so many others comforting. However, what is more important to me is for all of us to realize that the texts say what the texts say, not what individuals with their own agendas want them to espouse in support of their own personal agendas. Often Talmudic discussions end with “it’s a difficult matter” or “this cannot be resolved” or other expressions acknowledging that simple answers are too often inaccurate and more often potentially harmful. I would caution all those who are in the Halachically observant range to consider this important teaching of our beloved scholars of old and those today as well.
What have we, our group of concerned parents of LGBTQ Jews in our observant families, learned from this, or rather confirmed yet again as a result of this experience? Advocacy is critical as we protect and cherish the ones we love so dearly.
It is so important that we stand up and speak on behalf of our wonderful family members when others seek to marginalize or worse, malign them. After all, we are all aware that language used can bring death as well as life, as we learn in Mishlei (Proverbs).
Let us commit ourselves to bring and cherish life together—the life and potential and contributions of all Jewish community members, including the LGBTQ children, parents, siblings, relatives, and friends among us.
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- Learn more about Keshet’s program for parents and family member of LGBTQ Jews by visiting the Keshet Parent & Family Connection.
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This year we celebrated the work of two allies to the LGBT Jewish community with the inaugural Landres Courage for Dignity Award. The award was established by Shawn Landres and his family to recognize individuals who display public courage as allies to support the full inclusion of LGBT people or others whose dignity is at stake. The award was presented earlier this month at Glimmer, out Bay Area fundraiser.
Check out these short video profiles of our award winners:
Ayala Katz, an Israeli mother transformed by tragedy into an advocate for LGBT equality. Ayala was Named “one of the 50 most influential people in Israel” by Haaretz.
During her tenure as the CEO of the San Francisco based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, Jennifer Gorovitz championed outreach and inclusion for all Jews in the Bay Area who felt excluded from Jewish life.
At Glimmer we also honored Martin Tannenbaum with the Rosh Pina “Cornerstone” Award. Martin is an inspiring leader in the Jewish communities of the Bay Area, Salt Lake City, and beyond. and is a past chair of the Keshet Board of Directors and a member of the Board of Directors since 2010.
You an check out our photos from Glimmer here.
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Last night thousands of Jews across the country marked the beginning of Chanukah with rallies and protests against racism and police brutality.
In Boston, nearly 300 Jews gathered in Brookline, a heavily Jewish community. Together the group lit menorahs as “a symbolic dedication to the fight to end systemic police violence and racial profiling, and to remember the lives of black people across the country who have been killed by police.”
As Idit Klein shared in a recent email to Keshet members, “during the eight days of Chanukah, we remember the fight of the Maccabees who stood up against their oppressors and said: ‘We won’t take it anymore!’
This cry of resistance is all too familiar. As LGBTQ individuals, advocates, and allies, we remember that Stonewall was a riot, and that where we are today was only made possible because people before us stood up and said: ‘We won’t take it anymore!’”
For those of you who could not attend a Chanukah Action, here is a look at what happened in Boston. Be sure to check out resources here:
Protests organized by Chaunukah Action happened across the country—in places like Detroit, Brooklyn, San Francisco, and Seattle—to coincide with the first night of Chanukah. As many involved have noted, this is not the end of the conversation, but the start.
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If you’re in Boston, please join us for Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 23rd at 2:30pm in John F Kennedy Park. After, we will join the wider Boston community in the 16th Annual Boston Transgender Day of Remembrance.
As the Boston Community Organizer at Keshet, I’ve been working with community members on a Jewish observance of Transgender Day of Remembrance. A few weeks ago I sat down for an early morning meeting with Simcha, the Community Organizer at Boston Workmen’s Circle who is also gender queer.
Over the steam of my small cup of coffee the question “why are you so passionate about transgender justice work?” floated in my direction. It was a question I had been mulling for quite some time, but I had never quite found the answer.
I began to offer up some semblance of an answer: “Well, it all started in college. I had a lot of transgender friends. I witnessed what they had to deal with, and it wasn’t fair.”
I knew that wasn’t quite the answer, after all those words were about my friends and not about my stake in this work.
I pushed myself to find the real answer. Why am I so passionate about transgender justice work?
Fighting for transgender rights is fighting for the right to move beyond the boxes of “man” and “woman.”
I fight for folks who do not fit in either box or want to be in a different box. And, in doing that work I had to think about my own gender and what box I fit into. Here are a few of my boxes:
- I enjoy cooking.
- I don’t walk home alone in the dark.
- I bless Shabbat candles.
- I speak up in board meetings.
- I don’t pretend I never fart.
- I’ve wrapped Tefillin.
I don’t fit squarely into the “woman” box, and yet, I feel every bit like a woman. My blessing of Shabbat candles, a mitzvah typically reserved for women, does not at all feel at odds with when I wrapped Tefillin, a mitzvah typically reserved for men.
And, that’s when it struck me.
Doing transgender justice work was for me. When I fight for those who very obviously transgress the lines of gender, I am also fight to expand the walls of my very box. Trans* work is gender work and gender work is for all of us.
This year we mark Transgender Day of Remembrance in Boston on Sunday, November 23. I invite you to come do gender work for the community, but just as importantly for yourself.
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