Cheryl Moch & Cinderella’s Real True Story

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This June Keshet is so very excited to be partnering with the Jewish Women’s Archive to celebrate Pride. Each week we will bring you a profile of a different individual who has helped break down barriers and fight for her community as an LGBTQ (or ally) Jewish woman. To discover even more amazing, groundbreaking, Jewish women visit JWA.

When Cheryl Moch’s play Cinderella, the Real True Story opened in 1985, having the princess demand that her father change the laws so she could marry the cross-dressing Cinderella seemed completely far-fetched. Several members of the British Parliament were so shocked by the idea that they threatened to close down the production during its London run. And that, of course, only inflamed the public’s curiosity, leading to sold-out shows.

Now, thirty years later, the Supreme Court has ruled that states have no right to prohibit same-sex marriage, and for a large majority of young people, it’s the thought of denying gays the right to marry that seems ludicrous. We’ve undergone a sea change of public opinion.

In the 1980s, fewer people knew openly gay couples, and the images of gays, lesbians, and transgender people in the media were not only rare but usually based on painful stereotypes. With her same-sex fairy tale, Moch helped imagine a better world, and the success of her work helped make it easier for other creators to gain traction.

Today, it’s hard to find someone who claims NOT to know any gays or lesbians, or who has not been exposed to positive images of gays, lesbians and transgender people through shows like Glee and Transparent, YA writers like David Levithan, and plays like Fun Home. And all of that has helped us get to the point where the changes in the law just confirm the happily ever after we know all couples deserve.

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Posted on June 29, 2015

Marriage Equality: Our Figurative Promised Land

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Tears of joy! “Equal protection under the law” are the words everywhere on my Facebook feed. This is simultaneously a landmark moment for American society and a transformative occasion for my individual family and all those like us living across this land. Equality and justice are profound societal ideals that are enacted in simple, but powerful ways in our everyday lives.

In this week’s portion, Hukkat, God tells Moses that he will not enter the Promised Land. The reason for this is clear: Moses did not affirm God’s sanctity in the midst of the people (20:12). This was a grave enough sin that the finest prophet in all of Jewish history (Deut 34:10) could not fulfill what would have been the goal of leadership tenure.

Apparently, it was not enough to affirm God’s sanctity in private by doing courageous deed like leading a People out of Egypt and putting up with all their complaints in the desert. A public affirmation matters significantly. Today the Supreme Court publicly affirmed the sanctity of my marriage by granting it the dignity of enjoying equal protection under the law. This is so huge let me write it again: My marriage to my wife is precisely the same as my straight friends marriages.

The public recognition and resulting dignity that comes this is immeasurable.

For the 10 years of our marriage, my wife and I have asked one another as we entered a new state, “Does our marriage count here?” Visiting others states, we worried, if God forbid, we were in a car accident, would we be allowed to visit another. When I became a citizen in 2006, I was told for the purposes of immigration, I was single; my marriage did not exist in the eyes of the law. And the list goes on, or more precisely it went on… now our rights are assured. Now my marriage is recognized everywhere.

Laws obviously matter for the myriad of ways that they legislate our lives, but they also represent a society’s values and ideals – they are the representation of us – who we are and what we care about. Now this nation is sending the affirming message to millions of people, you count too, just the same as everyone else. Now children growing up with two parents of the same gender know that their family is exactly the same as everyone else’s. Day in and day out this is the stuff that matters.

As Justice Kennedy wrote, “marriage embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family.” I am forever grateful to all those who worked for this change and to the Supreme Court for affirming the sanctity of my marriage in the midst of the people of this land and around the world. Although Moses was not blessed to enter the literal Promised Land, I feel that today my family and I, and the millions like us, have taken a giant step into our figurative Promised Land.

Dr. Susie Tanchel is the Head of School at JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School.  Tanchel was the first out and proud head of a Jewish Day School in the United States.

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Posted on June 26, 2015

The Supremes Are Singing

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Today, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that all couples are entitled to enjoy equal marriage right across the country!

In celebration of our tremendous victory, we offer you this fun e-card! Please share it with your friends and family with a note of celebration or congratulations!

Posted on June 26, 2015

To Pride-Goers of My Generation: Have Pride, but Pay Attention

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Having “pride” in my humanity means saying “YES” to climate change (the good kind) and dedicating myself to work for it.

How did I get here? Let’s revisit Tuesday, June 9th at the 22nd Annual Pride Memorial Vigil. While honoring the lives claimed by anti-LGBTQ violence, I mourned for my people. In doing so, I mourned for the greater culture that allowed oppression to become the norm, and for the culture that still condones countless forms of oppression and persecution today.

Through the course of attending this vigil and “Pride Months” past, I have come to understand that there can be no “pride” without shared moments of grief and communal healing to center us in this month’s purpose.

Though we all hold different life experiences, what binds our fates together are shared histories of oppression – and a sense of cross-communal responsibility to those whose oppression is still ongoing and stifling.

Truly, nothing could be more important than memorializing where we have come from, and where we still have yet to go.

In marking the deaths of LGBTQ persons both past and present, this vigil highlighted the reality that dangerous heterosexist and cissexist ideologies still exist, pervasively. My reflections on this gathering are disjointed, hampered by my moving first visit to the Boston Holocaust Memorial and being dazed by grief and inspiration.

The Memorial, in short, is stunning. Six glass towers are lined on all surfaces with the six million identification numbers once tattooed upon the arms of Holocaust victims. The architecture is designed to allow visitors to hold their own arms against the glass, and see a number reflected back against them. Engraved in the glass are powerful statements from Holocaust survivors and allies, revealing the scope of the Nazis’ victims. Marble inscriptions of the Hebrew word for “Remember” flank the memorial on either side, and visitors have lined the path with stones in Jewish memorial observance, paying homage to the individuals this memorial stands for now.

Fittingly, this location signifies interfaith communities’ stake in LGBTQ solidarity. Because on a greater scale, bearing witness to LGBTQ loss speaks to cross-community survival. Moreover, memorializing in this way marks that many of those lost during the Holocaust were queer, transgender, and gender non-conforming, as well as those classified as being “racially inferior.”

In my heart, Holocaust memorials will always signify the persecution, mass terrorization, targeted attack, and loss of personhood of peoples both past and present.

Standing above the memorial’s steaming grates simulating the suffocating gas chambers, it is no accident that I immediately thought of Eric Garner. The senseless racism and violence at the pool party one week ago in McKinney, Texas. The eruption of transphobic aggression and slurs in the media and the social environment. The Muslim woman refused a sealed beverage on an airline with remarks symptomatic of nationwide Islamophobia. The countless transwomen of color brutally attacked, abducted, or murdered – and who have received neither justice nor recognition. The three Muslim students murdered earlier this February in Chapel Hill, NC. The events in Baltimore, in Ferguson, and in every city where police brutality represses the citizens they “aim to protect.” And mere days ago, the sickening massacre of nine black people observing their faith at the notable Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC by a known white supremacist.

For all the people whose names we remember, and for all the people whose names we will sadly never know. We must honor them. And we must work to end this injustice.

The reality of the year 2015 (and Hebrew Year 5775) is that all these acts of violence and crimes of hate – and many, many more – persist daily in the United States.

The only Pride Month I can celebrate is one that prioritizes justice and humanity for all. The struggle should not get to be over for some, and eternal for others. In this world where pride is still a luxury for many, we must lend our communal resources to our siblings in need. Memorial vigils allow us to justify our pride, to remember the precious lives our communities have lost, and the loved ones we continue to lose through our quest for life and liberation.

In closing, I point us to the immortal words transcribed in Pirkei Avot: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am ‘I’? And if not now, when?”

To Pride-goers of my generation: I encourage us all to examine the ways inequality is still showing up for members of our own communities, and in communities outside of our own. Remember what we have lost, and how much is still yet to be gained. I promise, Pride festivities will be more enjoyable when everyone has cause for celebration.

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Posted on June 25, 2015

Queer-Identified, Frum-Identified Jew in a Complicated Relationship with Orthodoxy

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This morning The Torch,  a project of JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, shared the heartwarming story of a family adjusting to support their gay son. To read the full story click here.

I’m a queer-identified, frum-identified Jew in a complicated relationship with Orthodoxy, and I want to tell you about my community.

I moved to Washington Heights, in Manhattan, in September because a kallah, a bride, gave me a blessing and told me to. At the time I had already decided to move to New York, but was leaning toward Brooklyn. At a dinner hosted by some Yiddishists in the Heights to honor Yudis and her new wife, Yocheved, Yudis was floating on a post-wedding spiritual high. I asked her for a blessing.

Me: Yudis, would you give me a bracha?
Yudis: Absolutely. I have the perfect one.

[We scurry off to a quiet room.]

Yudis: I want to bless you with the strength to give yourself the things you need to be happy and healthy. If you want a world where you can be queer and also frum, there is no question that it’s Washington Heights. You won’t need to sacrifice either one.

Because guess what? Washington Heights is not only home to Yeshiva University, nucleus of the capital “M” Modern Orthodox world. Over the past five years the neighborhood has become a hub for a relatively large community of halakhically observant lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, and queer Jews. In a world where most Orthodox LGBTQ Jews are isolated and fear they might be alone in their painful identity balance, this special intergenerational group of Jews has flourished.

To read the full story click here.

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Posted on June 23, 2015

Leslie Feinberg: Activist & Author

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This June Keshet is so very excited to be partnering with the Jewish Women’s Archive to celebrate Pride. Each week we will bring you a profile of a different individual who has helped break down barriers and fight for her community as an LGBTQ (or ally) Jewish woman. To discover even more amazing, groundbreaking, Jewish women visit JWA.

I only discovered Leslie Feinberg after her death, but everything I learned about her in the weeks and months afterwards made me grieve that she was gone, and wish that she had more time.

Alienated from her family at age 14 because she was a lesbian, Feinberg came of age working factory jobs in Buffalo, NY. One generally doesn’t think of blue-collar labor unions as particularly gay-friendly (especially pre-Stonewall), but Feinberg not only straddled the gap, she helped others realize that as marginalized groups fighting for their rights, workers and gays had more in common than they realized.

She joined the Workers World Party in her 20s, and for many years wrote a column for their newspaper called “Lavender & Red,” discussing the intersection of socialism and LGBT rights. She fought for women, for transgender people, for the disabled, rallying those around her with her passion and determination.

But her biggest impact by far was through her writing.

There is something so powerful, so visceral, about seeing echoes of your own experience in the pages of a novel, and the painful honesty of Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues, first published in 1993, was a revelation for a generation of lesbians. That would have been enough, to write a book that speaks to a moment in history and touches those who lived through it. But the writing is so vivid that even though my own life could not be more different from that of Jess Goldberg, the main character, I couldn’t put the book down. It’s that rare, powerful thing, a timeless work.

I’m so sorry that Leslie Feinberg is gone. But through her writing, she’s going to remain with me—with us—for a very long while.

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Posted on June 22, 2015

In Honor of Father’s Day: Stories From & About Fathers

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In honor of Father’s Day we’re sharing three of our favorite stories about and from Jewish fathers.

A Story of Fatherhood: Growing up Colin never doubted that he’d have the family he wanted — a husband and kids.  Colin’s story of fatherhood is rooted in a pride of his own LGBT identity—and he appreciates how lucky he is. Coming out to his family in the late 1980s could have gone poorly, but his family and friends have always accepted him. Colin joked that his mom, Sonya Michel, a women and gender historian who co-wrote The Jewish Woman in America alongside Paula Hyman and Charlotte Baum, would have been disappointed if she didn’t have a gay son.

When Colin hit 40, he was single and ready to seriously think about kids. Over the next few years he considered surrogacy, but found it wouldn’t be the right fit for him. Three years later a mutual family friend introduced Colin to a single, straight woman who was also contemplating having children. They were set up on, what Colin called, a “blind co-parenting date.” Over the next few months they emailed, called, met, and even went to couples counseling as they thought about becoming co-parents. Their daughter Stella was born in February of 2011.
Read more of Colin’s story.

A Story of LoveSarah is barren, Rachel is barren, Rivka is barren. As a single man, I too am barren, unable to conceive and birth a child. I remember the exact moment I knew I wanted to parent, and that I wouldn’t wait for a partner to co-parent. I remember deciding that foster care would be my path to parenting, as at that time, adoption by openly gay people was outlawed by the state where I lived.

And so I took the class and filled out the paperwork, and endured the grueling inspection of my home, my finances, and every other nook and cranny of my life.
Read more of James’ story.

The Ultimate Tzedakah: 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.
Read more of Rachel, Erik, and Sandro’s story.

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Posted on June 19, 2015

The Road to Pride: Supporting My Transgender Daughter

Lily and her family

My newly turned 12-year-old child walks into the room trembling and crying.

This is going to be huge. I wondered if I was going to be able to handle what my child was about to tell me.

To quote my child, “Transitioning [from male to female] is not a choice, it is a necessity.”
To quote myself, “Support is not a choice, it is a necessity.”

People tell me when they watch my daughter on TV or see me talk about her that they could never be like us. Please don’t be fooled when you see us now. My husband Stuart, my oldest child Eli, and my soon-to-be daughter, had cried ourselves to sleep at night. We spent many hours in therapy and support group sessions. We got a little feisty with one another from the stress. The first seven months were the worst, and we hit a low point.

But now, here I am sharing with you where we are today and where you too can be no matter where your child, sibling, or loved one falls within the LGBTQ community.

We are three years into our new life. We spent a year trying to get it right on how to handle the transition. Lily’s first day of transition started with layering on some bracelets, painting her nails, putting on her girl clothes, and packing up for Camp Aranu’tiq. She entered the safest space she could possibly begin her journey as a young woman.

When it was time to pick her up a week later, she had emerged beautiful, confident, and happy. She was wearing a smile we had not seen in a long time and thanked us for being a supportive family. We had made it through the storm and had a renewed child.

Again to quote Lily, “When I was sad, I could only think about the present. Now that I am happy, I can start thinking about the future.” We could not leave the last year, living in limbo, behind us fast enough so that we could start living again. It felt good to be moving forward as a new family with our son and our new daughter.

During the first year, we cancelled the Bar Mitzvah that was fast approaching. This was a huge loss for us, because we did not think we could get her to do a Bat Mitzvah. She spent a great deal of time being angry with God. As happiness set in, confidence continued to grow, and support continued to flow from our Jewish community, Lily announced that it was time to start scheduling her Bat Mitzvah.

Two years after my child told us she was transgender, she would chart new territory for our congregation. Lily led Shabbat services, read from our Holocaust Torah, and took her place as an adult woman in our Jewish community.

If you open your heart and your mind, like her brother Eli did, you can come to accept and love your loved one. My son had a hard time losing his brother. They were only two years apart and best friends. With time, he realized his sibling was still the same person. His love for his sister meant more to Lily than he knew. She had always looked up to him with admiration.

Lily has embraced and celebrated being transgender. She was offered a small acting role by HBO as a transgender teen, makes herself available for TV interviews, shared her story in THIS IS ME, and makes herself available to families that are struggling. She’s involved in her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, helping educate the staff and students at her school. This summer she will intern with an LGBTQ organization, The San Diego Foundation for Human Dignity.

Be like Lily….FULL OF PRIDE.

My husband and I gave our support, hearts, ears, and understanding to our child. Be like us…..FULL OF PRIDE!!!!!

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Posted on June 17, 2015

Lesley Gore: Lesbian, Jewish, Feminist

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This June Keshet is so very excited to be partnering with the Jewish Women’s Archive to celebrate Pride. Each week we will bring you a profile of a different individual who has helped break down barriers and fight for her community as an LGBTQ (or ally) Jewish woman. To discover even more amazing, groundbreaking, Jewish women visit JWA.

One of my favorite parts of the movie The First Wives Club was when the first round of wives got their mojo on and started singing Lesley Gore’s feminist anthem,  “You Don’t Own Me.”

At the time, I did not know that the songstress was a Jewish woman, born Leslie Sue Goldstein in 1946.  Nor did I know that she was the same woman who sung “It’s My Party” when she was 16 years old.

In 1963, “You Don’t Own Me,” which became a second-wave feminist theme song, rose to number two in the Billboard charts, right behind the Beatles’ “It’s a Hard Day’s Night.”

The words “And don’t tell me what to do/And don’t tell me what to say/
And please, when I go out with you/Don’t put me on display” still resonate today.

Gore came out as a lesbian in 2005 when she hosted a PBS LBGTQ series Into the Light.  In an interview with AfterEllen, she said that coming out while hosting “was just kind of my way of saying, here I am and this is what I feel I should be doing now, and it was sort of a natural evolution for me as opposed to, you know, this great gong in the head.”

In the patriarchal music business, Gore did not have a woman mentor until she became friendly with Bella Abzug.

She [Bella Abzug] kind of mentored me as to what’s important for women and where to put my energies in terms of gay women, and what I could best do to help women in our community and children. And that’s pretty much what I live by now, pretty much where I like to concentrate my efforts. You can only bite off so much, so you gotta know what you want to do.”

 In 2012 a public service announcement which encouraging women to vote to support the issues of pay equality, reproductive choice and health, and marriage equality had Gore’s anthem as a soundtrack.

Gore, who was born in Brooklyn and raised in Tenafly, NJ, died in 2015.

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Posted on June 15, 2015

The Transgender Journey: How I Maneuvered Through it with Facebook

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My heart began pounding.

Faster and faster and faster.

“How can this be happening?” I asked myself, tears about to pour over the edge of my eyelids. “How can we ever get through this?” I panicked.

I had just learned that the 15-year-old before me, whom I had always called my daughter, was actually my transgender son.

For several days, I grieved. It was, I told people over and over, like a death. I had lost my daughter. She was gone. “Her beautiful hair,” was all I kept thinking. I just could not stop ruminating about that gorgeous mane of which I’d always been so jealous.

Soon after, she shaved it all off…

I knew, however, from the moment my son told me who he was, that regardless of how sad I felt inside, I would always be there to support him 100 percent. I would be his rock, his ally, his protector. I would help him jump hurdles and help him find light within the darkness. I would turn my sadness into passion, and I would help him be who he was always meant to be.

Three days after I learned that I had a son, my depression rapidly dissipated and I became his mama lion.

I then made my very first Facebook post:

“My almost 16-year old is changing his name to Sage. We support him.” 

The responses I got were varied. Most people clearly didn’t realize what I meant. People told me stories of when they had wanted to change their names as kids. Others made light of my statement. “What a ‘Sage’ idea!” someone responded. Most only saw the name change. Very few even recognized that the gender in my post was not a “her.” Two people caught on and messaged me privately with information and support. For that, I was thankful.

And so, I decided I needed to be a bit more transparent. Thus, the next day, I posted this:

For everyone who has been wondering about my last post, here it is: My daughter “H” is now my son Sage. We love our son and he is happier than he has ever been now that we all know his long hidden secret. This is our family and this is who we are. End of story.

After hitting “enter,” I sat back and waited for responses. Would we be supported? Would people be nosy and rude? Surprisingly, I got 157 “likes” and 51 comments, each of which contained words of love, support, and acceptance. I couldn’t believe that, living in the middle of such a conservative state like Missouri, I had found so much tolerance and had not run into even the tiniest bit of nastiness.

Maybe the world really had become a better place…

And then, it came. The long awaited nasty letter in the form of a private Facebook message; the one sharp needle among my wonderfully soft- cushioned haystack:

Hi Sharon, I’m struggling to understand why it was important to you to post such a personal and private decision on behalf of your child? After all, my children’s sexuality is nobody’s business but theirs to share. I hope that my question is not offensive to you, that is not my intention. I’d really like to understand. If you decide not to respond, I understand as well. Either way I hope your family is at peace with the change.

REALLY?! I wondered aloud as I read this private Facebook message.

REALLY? Does she expect me to hide the fact that I now have a son? Am I supposed to keep him locked in a closet so no one knows that he exists? Am I supposed to keep telling people that I have a daughter? What does she expect me to do? And why would she refer to this as a private matter? Don’t most people share their gender with those around them? And doesn’t she realize that this has NOTHING TO DO WITH SEXUALITY?

I kept getting angrier and angrier.

And then, I stopped. And I thought. And I realized that this person was just trying to learn. She had probably never met a transgender person. She probably truly needed information. And so, I replied to her. And then I posted my reply on Facebook, so others could learn as well:

Someone messaged me to ask why I announced on Facebook that my child, Sage, is transgender.  I’m sure this person simply has no experience with people in the LGBT community. Education is so important in this world. Here was my answer, my attempt to educate.

“Thanks for your message. I appreciate that you want to be educated about this. I posted this on Facebook because it was easier than calling and writing everyone we know to let them know. I just couldn’t fathom having to email or call that many people,

When anyone has a child in their family, they announce it on FB these days. I now have a son, and I wanted to announce it.

“H” becoming Sage was not a “decision.” Being transgender is not a decision. Being transgender is a way you are born. It was his decision, however, to tell us that he is transgender.

Clearly, our family will look different now. We see so many people in so many different places during our lives; school, work, synagogue, social events, friend’s homes, etc. Many people will be seeing that “H” is now a boy. So, we needed to let people know so they aren’t surprised.

I am in no way embarrassed by my son. He is a combination of my husband and me, so clearly we made him this way. Thus, we accept him for who he is. We know our friends and family will do the same. We are excited for this new journey for our family and want to share it with those we know and love.

Also, please know that gender and sexuality are not the same. Being transgender is about who you are. Sexuality is about who you love. I would never discuss my child’s sexuality (or mine for that matter) publicly. But gender, well, that is something that everyone sees.

I am sorry if you were upset or offended by my post. Please know that being transgender is just another way of being. There is no shame in it. I am a girl. My husband is a boy. My oldest child is transgender. No big deal.

Thus, I was sharing my excitement over having a son, just like anyone would share the exciting moments in their lives on Facebook. I hope you understand that and will be happy for us.”

The responses to this were incredible. Fifty-five messages filled with words of love and congratulations. Fifty-five messages reminding me that my acceptance of my son is the best gift I could ever give to him and that him being himself is the greatest gift he could ever give the world.

These past few months have been filled with ups and downs, learning curves, new experiences and finding a new normal. In other words, these past few months, we have been living life.

And what an incredible life it is turning out to be…

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  • Get Support: The Keshet Parent & Family Connection: When a child comes out, it can be a major life change for the whole family. It might raise new questions, fears, challenges, and opportunities. The Keshet Parent and Family Connection is a diverse network of parents and family members of LGBTQ Jews across the country who are available to offer support to other parents dealing with any stage of their child’s coming out process.

Posted on June 12, 2015