from shunning to celebrating: one family’s story

Today, we bring a guest post by our 2nd place winners from the
Family Drawing Contest. MaLea, Carol and Judah live in Augusta, GA
and penned this essay for an R Family Vacations contest. A special
thank you to MaLea and Carol for allowing us to share this

My partner, Carol, and I live in Augusta, GA. with our 3 year old
son. Before Carol and I met, we had our share of struggles in our
own lives. I lost my mother from breast cancer when I was 15 and my
father emotionally abandoned me after she died. Carol battled
depression and the loss of her daughter from a divorce. Even with
all of our struggles, we were not prepared for the experiences we
were to face as a lesbian couple/family in the small town of
Augusta, GA.

Carol and I met while we were each taking art classes at our local
college. Carol thought I was annoying and had boundary issues. I
thought Carol was too quiet and needed to speak up more. It was
amazing that we fell in love.

In the spring of 1997 I was to go live in Israel indefinitely. I
cancelled that trip. I was in love (the kind of love where pepto
bismal was a favorite drink).  Carol was everything I wanted in my
life and I didn’t want to give that up.

For ten years prior to Carol and me beginning our relationship, I
was very active in the local Jewish community. I taught Hebrew and
Sunday school and I was an advisor for a youth group. It was a big
part of my life.

My mom always taught me to be true to your self. So, I lived by
that motto and I was very ignorant to the ramifications of being
myself. Once the community discovered I was gay, I was suddenly
seen as someone with a contagious disease. It was recommended to us
from a person in the Jewish community to stay away. I was also told
that since I had dated men prior to my relationship with Carol, I
had deceived the community and they were now angry.

The Synagogue was my home away from home and now I was told to
leave. I did so with out an argument. Even as this was happening,
Carol still chose to convert to Judaism. We wanted children
together and she knew it was important to me to raise them Jewish.
She wanted to have that commonality.

In 1999 I received a call from a friend that a Jewish youth that I
had known had just committed suicide. My friend told me there were
rumors he was gay. Since my town isn’t so big, it didn’t take
long for me to discover that this youth was indeed gay. This youth
just couldn’t handle the rejection from his parents and the
community anymore. I was so upset and vowed to become a visible,
positive roll model for our children.

In the spring of 1999 my partner and I started participating in the
Jewish community again. In the middle of services, people would
turn around and stare at us. We’d attend parties where people
would literally talk about us while we were standing right next to
them. We had no idea how people could be so hateful.

My partner and I began discussing what it must be like to be a
youth and having to deal with that type of ridiculing. We decided
that no youth should have to experience it, so we started a support
group for GLBT youth. We met with any community official who would
listen to get their support. We pulled together a panel of local
psychologists who were willing to help us but didn’t want their
support to be known publicly. We had lawyers who also were willing
to help but wanted to keep their names away from the public. This
was certainly better than nothing and we welcomed their help. We
had the hardest time finding local out GLBT adults to help
facilitate the weekly meetings. With a little time and a lot of
effort, we found them. However, it was a constant battle. The
Unitarian church offered their building for our meetings and by
late summer of 1999, we were ready to begin our GLBT support group
which we called Take Pride Youth. Our first meeting gathered 25
local GLBT youth. Unfortunately, the Jewish community would not
participate. One rabbi even told me that “that (being gay) was
not a problem at our Temple.”

After struggling for two years to keep Take Pride Youth going,
Carol and I were devastated we could no longer keep the GLBT
support group going. Being in a small town where one can be fired
from their job or where one can be subjected to the many types of
bigotries, it was impossible to maintain facilitators. Even as the
support group folded, we tried other ways to be positive roll
models. We applied for jobs to teach at the Sunday school at the
Synagogue. Even though so many parents were not happy, we were
still hired. I began teaching Hebrew school again and things really
seemed to be getting better. I really felt that Carol and I were
making a difference. We met gay youth and we were proud to show
them that we were all normal.

In the winter of 2002 my partner and I were elated to find out that
we were pregnant with our son. Just like any couple, we were
excited and we wanted to share the news. Unfortunately, many people
in the Jewish community didn’t approve. Our Synagogue held
emergency meetings to discuss our morality. Several parents started
rumors about us in order to find ways to fire us. They said that we
were unfit to teach because we were gay. Once I heard all the lies,
I just gave up. I was exhausted. I was heartbroken and upset that
people could do such a horrible thing. During this time, I worked
as a Marketing director at a prestigious private dining facility
where local politicians would meet regularly.  They knew I was
gay. However, once I got pregnant, they didn’t approve and I had
to leave that job when I was 4 months pregnant. How could such a
happy time turn so sad?

On August 10th, 2003 our beautiful son, Judah, was born. He was a
blessing. We vowed to teach him the true meaning of love and

Just weeks after Judah was born, we began to receive phone calls
from the Synagogue to come back. They really didn’t want us but
they wanted our son to be brought up Jewish and to have the
influence. Carol and I had mixed emotions. Carol said no because
she was tired of me getting hurt and I said yes because I
couldn’t stop thinking about that youth who took his life. I told
Carol that my return this time would come with demands of

Our first obstacle upon returning to the Synagogue was when we
received the membership application. On the application, it stated
“husband” and “wife”. We were told that we could not join as a
family but could join individually. I was told that just like
divorced families, I could put our son under my or my partner’s
membership. I refused to accept this and I told them no. This was
the start of many wonderful changes.

Now in 2006 I am proud to say that we have made many changes at our
Synagogue and in the Jewish community. The Synagogue allowed us to
join as a family. The Temple acknowledged their GLBT members and
didn’t see it as “a problem”. And the Jewish Community Center
welcomes us with open arms. I was asked to be the principal of the
Sunday school, and our family has become an integral part of the
Community. My proudest moment was during Yom Kippur services when
individual families were given the opportunity to stand on the
altar in front of the ark. Carol and I stood embracing each other
in front of the entire congregation. As we turned our rabbi smiled
and winked at us. It was an awesome moment.

Because Carol and I live in Augusta, GA, we don’t meet other out
GLBT families. The ones we meet are mostly closeted. Carol and I
joined MEGA this past summer but it is based in Atlanta which is
three hours away. After having our son we realized that meeting
other out GLBT families is very important. The emotional support is
so important. It would be a dream for us to win this contest and to
be able to meet other people like us. It just isn’t an
opportunity we’d normally be able to afford.

Thank you for the opportunity to write about our accomplishments.
We are proud of them and hope they inspire others to be true to
themselves so that they may pass their torch of love and kindness
to their children.