There’s a good reason why I’m not marching with my daughter in Atlanta’s Pride Parade this year: I’ll be with my SOJOURN friends and she’ll be with her high school’s GSA. Neither of us will be purposely avoiding the other. It’s just that we each feel more comfortable being with our own group of friends, which is how it should be. Right?
When I think about it, I’m glad that both of my daughters joined GSA. My high school didn’t have a GSA. I knew the word gay, as an old-fashioned lyric in West Side Story’s “I feel Pretty.” This is not only because I went to high school in a particular time (the early 1980’s) and in a particular place (the suburbs). It’s also because I was what we called, back in those days, a late bloomer. I was clueless about sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as feminism, social and literary criticism, and ethical rationalism until I arrived at college.
At Haverford and Bryn Mawr, I discovered that I had gay friends in high school, who were safely hidden in the closet behind oxford shirts and chino pants. By the time I entered rabbinical school, I had many gay and lesbian friends—none of whom could be out of the closet and enrolled in the rabbinical school of the Conservative Movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary. After two years in New York City, I headed to California for my first rabbinic intern position, ready to accept and support LGBT students at Stanford. I was 22 years old.
On my second day in the office, a graduate student asked to close the door. He told me that he was gay and asked me to study with him, to help him integrate his sexual orientation with his religious identity. Nothing in my training prepared me for that moment; although I’d encountered obstacles as a woman in a male-dominated profession, I was yet unaware that I’d also enjoyed special privilege as a cisgender straight woman. My only teaching credentials were an open-minded acceptance of all people and a commitment to learn from my students all that I hadn’t yet learned in school.
Serving as a rabbi in Jewish day schools, I kept my classroom and office doors open to teenagers seeking a safe space where they could share—or not share—with me. Perhaps because I was also a parent, those worried about coming out to their parents often sought my advice. I was humbled to be entrusted with their personal stories, and tried to help them by drawing on the experience I’d gained from previous students I’d counseled. Since leaving the classroom, I have remained involved in the Jewish LGBT world by working with SOJOURN and learning how to be an activist for gender and sexual diversity. For months, I was looking forward to attending this year’s Atlanta Pride Parade as a “Proud Rabbi” in rainbow regalia.
Then things got personal.
When one of my own children recently came out, I became personally invested in her finding openness and acceptance in her school community, the Jewish community and the wider world in which she’ll soon be an adult. I am, of course, still concerned about all teenagers with whom I interact; I’m just more emotionally involved with this particular teen. Now my t-shirt, tie-dyed pink and blue, will include the words “Proud Parent” above the “Proud Rabbi” designation.
I’m proud of her support of friends who are not ready to come out to their parents. I’m awed by her advocacy for friends who face tremendous challenges in a public high school that is equipped with gender-specified bathrooms and locker rooms. I’m relieved and grateful that she feels able to be her true self and define her gender identity, using language and relying on adult role-models that simply weren’t available when I was in high school. I’m elated that she feels both safe being open with her family and, like any teenager, embarrassed by her parents.
While it’s likely that we’ll both take MARTA to Atlanta Pride, we probably won’t be taking the same train into town. Still, we’ll be there together in spirit. And if she needs to find me, she knows how: I’ll be the one wearing the “Proud Parent-Proud Rabbi-Proud Person” shirt.
If you'd like to join SOJOURN and Atlanta's Jewish Community at Pride, check out the Facebook event page.
Rabbi Pamela Gottfried is a writer and teacher in Metro Atlanta, in addition to being a SOJOURN volunteer. She can be found on Facebook here.