Before he told members of his family, Nathan Looney told members of his synagogue, Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC), that he was transitioning from female to male. He says the encouragement he received is typical for members of this Pico Boulevard congregation.
“I see my family once in a while, but I see the people here once a week, sometimes more,” said Looney, who added that the synagogue gave him “perfect support.”
Looney was among more than 100 participants who attended Pride Shabbat at BCC, a Friday night kickoff to a weekend of activities celebrating the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.
Marking the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, a watershed moment in the LGBT rights movement, Pride festivities in Los Angeles included parties, a lesbian-led march, a festival and a Sunday afternoon parade along Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. In a year that has seen the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and President Barack Obama becoming the first president to support same-sex marriage, the LGBT communities had much to celebrate.
The Jewish community participated in LGBT events throughout the weekend with a combination of philanthropy and prayer as well as celebration.
In addition to Pride, BCC’s Friday night service also marked the 40th anniversary of its first Shabbat service. Congregants were invited to prepare short speeches to read from the bimah throughout the service to share memories, describing their personal journeys to spirituality as well as coming out to themselves and their communities. The congregants’ stories started with the earliest members of the congregation and continued toward the more recent.
Davi Cheng, a computer graphics designer who helped create the biblically themed stained glass windows in the sanctuary, first came to BCC in 1996 when her partner, Bracha, began keeping a more Jewish household. Cheng, a former BCC president, recalled how she celebrated her 17th anniversary with her partner at the synagogue.
“[Bracha] arranged to have ‘The Song of Songs’ sung to me during Friday night services. We were invited to light the Shabbat candles. What a powerful night that was — to be able to be who we are and celebrating publicly our anniversary. Just this act of sharing our love with the community was very affirming,” she said.
At Congregation Kol Ami, a congregation in West Hollywood, Rabbi Denise L. Eger and Cantor Mark Saltzman led Pride Shabbat services. Congregants also took part in a professional clothing drive for the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center’s Jeff Griffith Youth Center, which gives shelter and supplies to homeless LGBT youth as well as helping them obtain GEDs and vocational assistance.
“That is really what gay and lesbian pride is about,” said Eger, who served as a judge for the parade. “It is about creating an environment of total inclusion. Tolerance does not mean that anyone does anything. To really include means you go another step further.”
Celebration of diversity was also reflected in an interfaith service at the intersection of Santa Monica and La Cienega boulevards before the start of the Pride Parade on Sunday. The service included live music and was led by spiritual leaders from Kol Ami, BCC, Metropolitan Community Church Los Angeles (MCCLA), the International Buddhist Meditation Center and the Los Angeles Queer Interfaith Clergy Council.
The Rev. Neil Thomas of MCCLA worries that young people are leaving the church “because they are equating religion with bigotry and hatred.” He believes the interfaith service is important for dispelling the idea that God does not love gay people.
Victor Bumbalo of the Buddhist Meditation Center agreed. “Young people coming out think people of faith have turned their backs on them. Being LGBT should not stop someone from being spiritual,” he said.
While the mood throughout the weekend was supportive and optimistic, it was also acknowledged that there is still work to be done in obtaining civil rights for the LGBT community.
Eger stressed that the LGBT community will continue to exist in a state of second-class citizenship until the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.
Rabbi Lisa Edwards of BCC agreed.
“It was great to see that the president came out in support of gay marriage, but that same week, North Carolina passed the law banning it. … Minuses always come with pluses. It’s two steps forward and one step back, to put it in parade terms. But we’re still moving forward.”