LBGTQ Support Groups launched at Jewish Family Services

Written by Larry Nagengast

(WILMINGTON, DE) — Youths struggling to express their gender identity, or to feel comfortable with that identity, face unique social challenges, and so do their parents and loved ones.

To assist youths and their parents navigate these complex matters, Jewish Family Services of Delaware (JFS) recently launched a support program called the Affirmation Project.

“We’re covering a lot of stuff – LGBTQ history, the parents’ journey, how to support kids, holding family conversations, how to make connections with the child,” says James Buckley, one of the Affirmation Project group leaders.

“All the parents participating love and accept their children. It’s a fluid journey, trying to figure out what we’re doing more authentically,” says Rebecca McAdams, clinical supervisor of the group.

About six parents participated in the first round. McAdams says the kids signed up were not close in age to one another, so their experience was individualized. But McAdams hopes as more people sign up, they can offer group activities for youth of similar ages

Programs like the ones JFS offer may become more prevalent as increasing numbers of individuals self-identify as members of marginalized communities, McAdams says.

In 2021, according to the Statista data platform, 7.4 percent of Delaware’s adult population identified as members of the LGBTQ community.

Nationally, adults identifying as LGBTQ increased from 3.5 percent of the population in 2012 to 7.7 percent in 2023.

Participation in JFS’s Affirmation Project Parenting Group has helped Amie, whose child recently turned 14. She admits still stumbling occasionally over the use of preferred pronouns in talking about her child.

Over the past few years, she said, “they started expressing different views about gender and sexuality, about who they thought they were becoming. We’ve been listening, asking questions, trying to go slow.”

The support groups, Buckley says, have a three-part curriculum, focusing on emotional support, education and history, and communication skills.

Amie has found the sessions informative, with the most helpful segments being the time the parents spend sharing concerns and experiences with each other. “We can all talk the talk, but walking the walk is the challenge,” she says. “But with any group like this, you learn that you’re never alone. It’s a huge comfort to know there are others in a similar situation.”

The coming out process can start as early as age 6, but it could occur at 14, or even into one’s 30s, says Buckley, who adds, “I grew up in Delaware, in Kent County, and I’ve been out loudly for nine years, since I was a teenager.”

When coming out begins, Buckley says, depends on a variety of factors, including the individual’s social network, the culture they’re growing up in and the safety of the support network that surrounds them.

“Most queer individuals want a place of love and support,” Buckley says. “Unconditional love and support are key.

The Affirmation Project, like other JFS Delaware support group programs, is free of charge. JFS Delaware also offers fee-based individual therapy sessions, but financial assistance is often available for the uninsured or underinsured.

The next Affirmation Project support group is scheduled to begin in August and will take place every Wednesday for 12 weeks from 6:30 to 7:30 pm. Click here to register for the Affirmation Project.