The LGBT community: I felt as if I was letting my parents down

Coming out can be a scary experience, especially if you are from a traditional Jewish family where being LGBT is far from the norm. Here one daughter shares her story.

By Naomi Firsht, July 10, 2014

Lara Atkin, 30, is a PHD student and teacher in English literature at Queen Mary University of London

At 18 I had a nice Jewish boyfriend, but something wasn't quite right. I didn't really understand and my first thought was, "what's wrong with me?" But as time went on, I realised this was who I am.

When I came out I started by telling my friends during my second year at Oxford. I was starting to meet gay and lesbian people so it encouraged me to be open. It sort of trickled out and gradually reached a point where I was happy to tell anyone.

It took me a lot longer to tell my friends from home. I went to a Jewish school so I thought of them as being a bit more socially conservative. But on the whole they were sympathetic. Telling my family was harder because I felt there were expectations for me to get married and live the family ideal. I felt like I was letting them down. I told my mum a few years before telling my dad as she has quite a liberal outlook. She was more relaxed than I expected. She would talk to her Jewish friends about it and then come back to me saying: "You know, so and so's daughter is gay." It was quite sweet.

I took longer to tell my father because he grew up in the '50s and held quite conservative views. I thought he would find it difficult to accommodate the idea into his world view. He gets very uncomfortable when I talk about girlfriends.

Sometimes there are a few comments, like when I invited a serious girlfriend to Friday night dinner. She was a charming girl and my parents said, "We think she's really great, it's just a shame you brought her home, and not your brother."

And I still get the occasional: "Our friends have a nice son, are you sure you don't want to meet him?"

It's easier to come out today. It's easier to access support. The gay marriage discussion brought LGBT issues into public discourse.

There is more openness in LGBT Jewish communities now. I stay involved through groups like Young Jewish Lesbians, part of the Jewish Gay & Lesbian Group, and I volunteer at the Rainbow Jews project. I would be more involved with my shul - North Western Reform - if it had a LGBT space.

As told to Naomi Firsht

Last updated: 5:11pm, July 10 2014