Gay clergy open up about coming out

A strong re­la­tion­ship with God al­lowed lo­cal re­li­gious lead­ers to ac­cept them­selves

GA Voice - - Ga Voice - by Dyana Bagby | dbagby@the­gavoice.com

Rabbi Josh Lesser Con­gre­ga­tion Bet Haverim www.con­gre­ga­tion­bethaverim.org

When and how did you come out?

Coming out is a con­tin­ual process but for me it be­gan in high school. I knew I was dif­fer­ent but had no lan­guage for it ex­cept to say that I was the most pop­u­lar loner. I wres­tled with an eat­ing dis­or­der in part to con­tinue my hid­ing, but started at­tend­ing a sup­port group on my own with­out any­one’s knowl­edge my se­nior year.

There I be­came friends with a gay col­lege art stu­dent, a bi­sex­ual punk rock chick and a straight beauty queen. We joked we were our own “Break­fast Club.” I was pre­sum­ably straight. They were at my high school grad­u­a­tion.

When it was time to re­ceive my di­ploma I re­ceived a stand­ing ova­tion, and I had this Sally Fields rev­e­la­tion that peo­ple really liked me and I burst in tears. Later I met up with my gay friend and I be­gan to tear up again and he leaned in and kissed me.

Six years later, I ap­plied to sem­i­nary and in do­ing so I knew that I had to be out in ev­ery facet of my life if be­com­ing a rabbi were to have itegrity. And so shortly af­ter telling my par­ents I was be­com­ing a rabbi, I sur­prised them again by telling them I was gay.

How did re­li­gion play a role in you coming out?

I went to a tra­di­tional Jewish day school so I re­ceived loudly and clearly the mes­sage that ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity was a sin, which de­layed my coming out and had me fear los­ing ev­ery­thing I held dear.

On the other hand, I was given the mes­sages that so­cial jus­tice was a pre­cious value and that each of us had a part to play in restor­ing the world and reach­ing out to oth­ers. Sim­i­larly, the abil­ity to ques­tion and think crit­i­cally were spir­i­tual gifts given to me in school. To­gether they were life­lines to re­con­struct a con­tem­po­rary Ju­daism build­ing on a fem­i­nist rein­vest­ing of Ju­daism that al­lowed me to find a way back to my spir­i­tual life.

I also can­not for­get how my sis­ter who had the same ed­u­ca­tion would re­mind me that love was holy. When try­ing to come out to my par­ents, she en­cour­aged me to do it over a Shab­bat din­ner. Con­nect­ing this truth to the sa­cred­ness of the holy day and to fam­ily was a beau­ti­ful gift and way to frame my sex­u­al­ity and iden­tity as holy and a part of my spir­i­tu­al­ity.

Ul­ti­mately, though I could not get the words out of my mouth and left them a let­ter, but my sis­ter’s vi­sion re­mains with me as the right way to claim all of who I am, a gay spir­i­tual Jewish man.

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