LGBT Interfaith Parents Circle
The LGBT Interfaith Parents Circle is a parenting program for LGBT couples who are raising, or are considering raising, Jewish children. Congregation Bet Haverim will be the first organization to host and facilitate the LGBT Interfaith Parents Circle after it was successfully piloted in Los Angles over the past two years. The program was developed by Big Tent Judaism, formerly known as the Jewish Outreach Institute, a New York-based organization that encourages increased participation in Jewish life through advocacy, training, and direct programming. Congregation Bet Haverim is proposing to implement a total of ten sessions, five of which will be classroom-based with a formal educational program while the other five will take place in a park or similar public space and will provide an experiential educational program in a friendly, social setting.
What is the mission and purpose of this program?
The mission of the LGBT Interfaith Parents Circle is to provide interpartnered or intermarried gay and lesbian couples with Judaic educational content and a supportive community to help them better respond to the challenges they face when choosing to raise Jewish children.
The purpose is to help these individuals and their families better navigate issues of gender and religious identity as they begin to raise children in a Jewish framework.
The LGBT Interfaith Parents Circle is the first of its kind parenting program for intermarried or interpartnered LGBT couples who are raising, or are considering raising, Jewish children. This program was developed by Big Tent Judaism and piloted in Los Angeles over the last two years. Congregation Bet Haverim will be the first organization outside of Los Angeles to host the program as it is rolled out nationally. Congregation Bet Haverim will collaborate with a wide range of Jewish and secular organizations, including SOJOURN (the Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity), to provide a total of ten classes and gatherings on topics addressing both Jewish and LGBT identity including Jewish culture and heritage; adoption and questions of origin; and fluidity of gender roles. Participants will discuss pertinent issues related to being LGBT, interfaith, as well as Judaism and community in general, including personal history, family relationships, relationships with their communities (Jewish, secular, LGBT, etc.) and establishing a sense of “belonging.” Conversations will also touch upon difficult and complex topics such as participants’ feelings about religion as an institution, past experiences with organized religion, and how all of these factors affect and relate to how one chooses to raise one’s children.
A 2009 study by Steven M. Cohen, Caryn Aviv, and Ari Y. Kelman* found that 89% of Jewish lesbians and gay men who are in a committed relationship are in an interfaith relationship. With the passage of the marriage equality act, and even before the enactment, many couples were discussing how to raise their children. The LGBT Interfaith Parents Circle is for interfaith couples who are raising, or considering raising, Jewish children.
The LGBT Interfaith Parents Circle will be the only program of its kind for gay and lesbian intermarried/interpartnered parents in the Atlanta area. We will ensure that barriers to participation are minimized by providing the program to participants free of charge (including free onsite childcare), taking place in a neutral, welcoming venue, and addressing the needs of clients above all other communal or organizational interests. In the Jewish community, and even within LGBT synagogues, until now, there has not been a program that addresses the issues unique to intermarried/interpartnered families, particularly with regard to raising Jewish children. This program will also provide a safe space for these families to share their unique challenges and support each other in the process.
*"Gay, Jewish, or Both? Sexual Orientation and Jewish Engagement." Steven M. Cohen, Caryn Aviv, and Ari Y. Kelman. Journal of Jewish Communal Service, Volume 84, No. 1/2, Winter/Spring 2009.
Over the past two years, Big Tent Judaism’s programming team collaborated with many experts in the field, including a curriculum writer from Keshet and clergy from Congregation Beth Chayim Chadashim and HUC’s Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation in Los Angeles to generate detailed curricula for a total of 18 sessions. The curricula and related participant handouts are currently being professionally designed so that they can be distributed to Jewish organizations across the country, including Congregation Bet Haverim, that would implement the program locally.
Over the two years that the program was piloted in Los Angeles, a total of 23 individuals participated in the sessions. The most successful session in terms of number of participants and overall impact was the pre-Hannukah session that took place in a large public park on December 7, 2014.
How do you measure the success of your program?
Because we are reaching a very specific population and providing them with substantial and highly personal experiences, we are less focused on reaching large numbers of people and more concerned about making sure that those who do participate gain knowledge, insight and a sense of community from the program. Big Tent Judaism’s evaluation team will do this by conducting short interviews with program participants to hear their perspectives and find out what aspects of the program are most relevant and meaningful to them. Based on the feedback Big Tent Judaism received from participants in the pilot program in Los Angeles, this program was successful in meeting our goals and objectives.