By Lauren Carpenter
Jewish Community Services
With the recent passage of Marriage Equality legislation in Maryland, more dialogue about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning (LGBQT) issues is taking place in the media, in the workplace and in many homes. However, the very personal moment when a loved one tells you that he or she is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender for the first time can still feel challenging.
Imagine this scenario: Your son is home from college for the weekend and he says he has something important to tell you. You take him out to lunch, and over the course of the meal, he tells you that he is gay. The moment he tells you, you may be at a loss for words. You love your son, but you may not know what to say.
Feeling a wide range of emotions, such as surprise, fear, anger, sadness, confusion or relief, is totally natural and can even be healthy. Your culture, religion, political views and family history can add another layer of complicated feelings to the situation. Regardless, if you want to preserve the relationship you have with this person, you will want to work through these emotions so that you can come to a place of acceptance, understanding and compassion.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Remember that your loved one is confiding in you because he or she loves and trusts you, and wants to share this important piece of his/her life with you. Also remember that it has probably taken a lot of courage for this person to be able to talk with you about it.
- Get support from someone who has been there.
- Educate yourself about what it means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered.
- Try not to let labels like “gay” or “homosexual” color how you now see this person. Remind yourself that this is the same person inside, with the same personality, quirks, and strengths she or he had before revealing this new information.
- Remember that you are not alone. One in four families has an immediate family member who is LGBTQ, and most people have at least one LGBTQ individual in their extended circle of friends and family.
- If it is not possible for you to come to a place of acceptance or understanding, at least try to find a way to maintain a civil and respectful connection with the person. Doing your best to keep the lines of communication open can do a lot for your relationship.
- Consider professional help if you are having a hard time coping. Speaking with a therapist at Jewish Community Services (410-466-9200) is a good way to start processing this new information.
And, check out these resources:
- “Open Doors” – This is a program for LGBTQ teens that meets on the second Tuesday of each month and features speakers, discussions and activities based on the interests of the participants. For information, visit http://www.jointeens.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or call 410-581-9388.
- Parents of LGBTQ – This group for Jewish parents of LGBTQ children meets at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC. For information, email Melissa Berman at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 410-559-3593.
- The Keshet Parent and Family Connection – This program is part of the Keshet national grassroots organization that works for the full equality and inclusion of LGBTQ Jews in Jewish life. A local group called The Parent Connection serves parents in the Baltimore/Washington DC area. Trained Jewish parent mentors are available to provide confidential peer support to other parents whose children have identified as LGBTQ. To access this service, log on to https://www.keshetonline.org/program.support-families/ and fill out the required forms. The Keshet program will then make the match with local parents. For information, email Joan Cohen, Senior Manager, Access Services at email@example.com or call 410-843-7317.
- JQ Baltimore – This is a community-wide organization for Jewish LGBTQ individuals, their families and friends. The group is dedicated to making the Jewish community more welcoming and inclusive. For information, visit http://www.facebook.com/JQBaltimore, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 443-300-8996.
- PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) – PFLAG has a chapter in Baltimore that holds monthly meetings for parents. For education materials, visit http://www.pflag.org. To speak with a parent of an LGBTQ child who can provide support and advice, call the hotline at 443-255-1484.
- JCS – For local and national resources for Jewish LGBTQ individuals and their families, visit http://www.jcsbaltimore.org /Resources/JCS Information and Referral On-Line Database.
It may take time to fully process the news and you might have a lot of questions. That’s ok. Just don’t forget to continue to assure your loved one that you still love and care about him or her. Each person’s experience will be unique, but these suggestions will help guide you on your journey to understanding something new about the person you love.