I have always been a part of the Jewish community. My family was culturally Jewish and not very observant. We honored nearly every holiday with traditional foods, a full house — and lots of loud voices including laughter coming from all generations.
My connection to the LGBTQ community, however, is not even 10 years old. I will share that many years ago, when I was kid, I read a letter that was sent to my mom. Included with the letter was a small picture. My mom’s cousin Sam was writing to share a bit about his new boyfriend — the man in the photo.
Now I had this knowledge that Sam was gay, but I couldn’t ask my mom about him because I read her mail without permission. Apparently, she knew all along about Sam, but it was never spoken about. So, at a very early age, I learned that this was hush hush. We hide “gayness” in our family — that was the message. I also realized that everyone knew, including my grandmother, but no one talked about it out loud.
Nearly 10 years ago, when my son came out as trans, I didn’t know anything. Not only did I not know how to talk about it, but I also had no idea what it all meant. I had never heard the word transgender before that evening.
I would go to the ends of the earth for my children. At that moment, I was lost. It took several months of researching, calls and conversations before I had enough information to come out of the closet and use my voice to ask for help.
One of the first productive calls I made was to my Temple. They have someone on staff whose job is helping members find resources in the community. They are life support for those just hanging on. Following that first conversation, I received a call offering to send my son to a Jewish queer teen weekend retreat on the east coast. It was a godsend. This was the first time that my son could spend time with others just like him. That call was a mitzvah.
I want to pause for a moment on word mitzvah. Loosely translated, a mitzvah is a good deed. However, it is so much more than that. Engaging in acts of mitzvot is an obligation — a commandment, if you will. We have a responsibility as Jews, as members of a community, to do unto others — to do good things.
As a Jew, I grew up with the message that it is important to live a good life while you’re here on this earth and that living a good life means taking care of others, giving back, making the world a better place. At different times of my life, this message meant different things and often took me in new directions.
In 2015, I founded Stand with Trans so families would not be alone and trans youth could find support. Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and pikuach nefesh (saving a life) are two of the values embraced by the organization. Regardless of one’s background, religion, financial status or education, each person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.
Trans youth need their parents to be their best and first allies. As a parent first, I knew that Stand with Trans needed to provide tools to educate families that would validate trans identities and help each young person live their life authentically and with pride.
As a proud ally to the LGBTQIA+ community, I’m still learning what it means to use my voice to uplift those around me; to speak for those whose voice is drowned out by the injustices that seem to be lurking around every corner. I will never know what it’s like to be gay or trans and to be othered. I do know what it’s like to be a Jew and experience hatred and discrimination. I know what it’s like to be a parent of a child who is hurting so badly that he is driven to cut into his own flesh.
Working to make our communities safer for all is in my DNA. It is in the DNA of Judaism. We have made real progress since Sam — his heart, his partner, his identity — had to be hush hush. We have a long way to go. I will not speak in hushed tones. I will continue to use my voice to speak out, change hearts and minds, and to protect those most vulnerable in our world.