Posted by Naomi Goldberg
Counting is an important concept for Jews. We count the Omer in the lead-up to Shavuot. In Numbers, the Israelites are commanded to conduct a census. As someone who does a lot of number crunching as her day job, I’m intrigued by the counting we can (and cannot) do of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities.
The most frequently asked question I get is, “How many gay (or lesbian, or bisexual, or transgender) people are there?” And, unfortunately, it isn’t an easy question to answer. Very few surveys ask about sexual orientation and even fewer ask about gender identity. Much of the counting we do comes to the US Census, which only lets us identify same-sex couples who live together. From those figures, there are about half a million same-sex couples in the US. Another survey tells us that about 4.1% of the adult population identifies at LGB – so that’s about 9 million people. And there are no good statistics about the number of transgender people in the US.
What about Jews? Anecdotally, it seems like a lot of Jews identify as LGBT. As my mom says of my own hometown and the stories the other Jewish moms tell about their LGBT kids, “There must have been something in the water!” Los Angeles has had as many as two LGBT temples and several LGBT Jewish organizations. What does the data say about The Tribe and how queer we really are?
Fortunately for someone like me who loves data, there’s a big survey that comes in handy in answering this question. The General Social Survey asks Americans lots of questions – including questions about sexual orientation and religion. In 2008, 12.6% of Jewish respondents identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. That is nearly 7.5 times as many Protestants and more than 8 times as many Catholics.
The General Social Survey can’t tell us why higher numbers of Jews identify as LGBT.
Is that Jews who identify as LGBT don’t feel as alienated from their faith as those raised in Catholic or Muslim homes, so LGBT Jews are more likely to continue to identify as Jewish instead of running from religion? Perhaps.
It is that LGBT identified non-Jews see the affirming aspects of Judaism and become Jews-by-Choice? Perhaps.
But, the “why” isn’t as important as the “how.”
How can we make the Jewish community as welcoming and affirming of LGBT Jews as possible? How can such Jews feel valued? How can we ensure that LGBT Jews feel counted?
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July 19, 2010 | 3:48 am
Posted by Maital Guttman
Contrary to popular belief?
By BARRY DAVIS
In an ideal world, sexuality should be a private matter, says Bat Kol’s press officer Talya Lev. But to alleviate the hostility religious lesbians face, the group provides support.
The religious-secular divide in this country is well documented and continues to be a painful, and sometimes violent, flashpoint for many Jews in Israel and, to an extent, in the Diaspora. But there are also some deep rifts within the religious community that many find irreconcilable.
Out religious lesbians may sound like a contradiction in terms, but according to 27-year-old, American-born Talya Lev, there are hundreds of Orthodox women who have come out of the closet and many more who have yet to come out and are afraid to do so. Lev has been a member of the Bat Kol religious lesbian organization, founded in 2005, for two years and now acts as its press officer. The English language information on the organization’s Web site (www.bat-kol.org) declares that Bat Kol was established “to allow women to fulfill both their religious and lesbian identity; to make it possible for women to live in loving relationships, to raise children without deception but nevertheless stay committed to their religion.”
“Bat Kol is an amazing organization,” says Lev. “Its mission is to create a supportive community and a framework of mutual trust so that religious lesbians and their families can live fulfilling lives without having to compromise either their religious identity or their sexual identity.”
That, of course, is generally easier said than done. Ask most conventional religious Jews about their opinion of same-sex relationships, let alone families where both parents are women, and their response would include some eyebrow raising and total objection to even discussing the matter. A couple of years ago Channel 1 ran a report about lesbians in the haredi community, which talked about threats by husbands and other members of the family and violent opposition within the community.
Lev is, of course, aware of the fierce objection to lesbianism among religious Jews but says she does not see any contradiction between her sexual preference and her faith. “This is the way God made me,” she states, “and I wouldn’t presume to get into halachic issues of what is considered to be wrong or right. I believe God loves me for what I am, as I am.”
Lev adds that although she has certainly had her struggles – both with her family and others around her – she has had some positive experiences, too. “A few years ago I lived with a lesbian partner and we had religious people come over to our house on Shabbat. My partner would make Kiddush on Friday night, and I would do it on Shabbat morning. We never encountered any problems with other religious people.”
But many have felt trapped, and the apparent impasse has led to tragic consequences. “Last year at the gay pride parade in Jerusalem, Bat Kol had a stand. I was at the stand when I saw a young woman looking over in our direction, looking distressed. When I asked what was wrong, she said she had a religious friend who was a lesbian who had committed suicide and that if Bat Kol had existed back then, her friend might still be alive.”
At her own confession, Lev would rather not be doing what she does today for the organization, not because she doesn’t believe in it – quite the contrary. “In an ideal world, my sexuality should be my own private matter. Straight people don’t have to come out and declare they’re straight, do they? But I obviously recognize the need to provide religious lesbians with support and counseling. They need to know they are not alone in this world and that it’s OK to be both a lesbian and religious and, yes, they can have their own families. That is such a central issue in the Jewish world, and there is absolutely no reason for a religious woman, because of her sexuality, to have to sacrifice that part of her life.”
Any new organization, especially one that operates within an often hostile environment, needs funding, and that has been a problem for Bat Kol since its founding five years ago. However, now there appears to be a light at the end of that tunnel. The organization recently received financial assistance from the ROI Community for Young Jewish Innovators, created by philanthropist Lynn Schusterman. According to Lev, the money is very important to Bat Kol, but recognition by such a prestigious foundation is equally encouraging.
Bat Kol, says Lev, is trying its utmost to spread the word about homosexuality to allay fears and, indeed, homophobic tendencies among members of the general public. “Part of our aim is to educate people. There are organizations today that are trying to educate teachers or schools to remove all this misinformation about what homosexuality is. I think ignorance is a big cause of homophobia. Bat Kol doesn’t go out to schools, but there are other organizations, such as IGY [Israel Gay Youth organization], that do.”
Lev says her first encounter with Bat Kol was an uplifting and enlightening experience. “I had been wrestling with my own struggles before – I don’t want to get into my family background – and when I went to my first Bat Kol Shabbaton [weekend], I was blown away. There were around 200 religious women there, of all ages and backgrounds, and there were even kids there! I found that incredible, to see religious lesbians bringing up their own families. I suddenly felt I was no longer on my own. There was someone there I could talk to, people who shared the same views and had the same issues. Bat Kol has social events, we learn Torah together, and there is counseling too, and on-line support.”
Today, Lev says much effort is being channeled into getting the word about Bat Kol and religious lesbianism out to the world via the media and the Web.
“The Internet is a very important tool, which allows religious lesbians to look for and get help anonymously before they are ready to come out. We are also looking to connect with other Jewish religious lesbian groups and communities around the world. I am part of the new Bat Kol International initiative which is working on that, and also on engaging rabbis in dialogue. That is also very important.”
The organization’s dialogue endeavor stretches far and wide. “We are looking to share dialogue with people and parties that may not be empathetic toward us. I believe that when you get to know someone as a person, you can get past all those taboos and preconceptions.”
In addition to the ROI grant, Bat Kol is gaining ground. “The organization has grown exponentially since 2005,” says Lev. “We have over 200 members now, which is unheard of considering how terrified most girls are in the religious community to come out of the closet. So when you have an organization at your back, you start to think, ‘I don’t have to be so afraid anymore, and there are others just like me.’ I was also scared and in the closet. I had no idea what to do. We’re making progress.”
July 14, 2010 | 11:57 am
Posted by Kalil Cohen
While I was dealing with understanding and accepting myself as a transgender man, and going through the process of transitioning socially and medically, I didn’t place much importance on my Jewish identity. Although it had always been central in my life growing up, coming out was such an all-consuming process that finding trans spaces and a trans community took precedence over my need for Jewish spaces and communities for several years.
I was also worried that there would be no way of integrating a Jewish and trans identity and consigned myself to only identifying as trans, and giving up my Jewish identity.
As I became more comfortable with myself as a trans person and completed all the major changes I plan on making to my body and my life, however, I was once again interested in finding Jewish community. I feel extremely lucky that as a Jew in the United States, there are many Jewish communities that are explicitly LGBT friendly, and there is so much trans Jewish visibility that I had a trans rabbi officiate at my wedding, I have a community of trans Jewish peers and mentors, and I have access to trans Jewish art.
As an artist myself, I have found that seeking out trans Jewish art has been an important part of integrating my trans and Jewish identities in a way that feels meaningful. One of my favorite trans Jewish artists is Athens Boys Choir. Although it sounds like a large group, it is actually one Jewish transman spoken word artist and musician. In one of his most poignant pieces, Mourner’s Prayer, is on his latest album, Bar Mitzvah Superhits of the 80s 90s and Today. In Mourner’s Prayer Athens Boys Choir weaves together the words of the Kaddish with a rumination on transitioning. In the piece he is mourning the divisions in trans communities between those people who choose to or have the option to medically transition and those who cannot or do not choose to alter their bodies through surgeries or hormones. As a trans Jew, his music is particularly relevant to my own experiences, many of his cultural references being familiar and comforting.
Read more about Mourner’s Prayer here: http://newyork.timeout.com/articles/gay/52351/athens-boys-choir
Mourner’s Prayer is released on Trans-Fusions 2, an awesome compilation CD of tracks by 18 trans musicians. Check it out here: http://trans-genre.net/content/trans-genre-compilation-cd-ii/
Full disclosure – I also have a track on this album, You Don’t Really Know Me by Metahuman
July 12, 2010 | 1:12 pm
Posted by Lia Mandelbaum
For the longest time I was searching for the “perfect relationship.” She would be my soul mate and my better half. I would finally feel complete. Seeking out relationships based on these set of ideals, I found myself getting involved in lustful relationships that would eventually leave me feeling empty. I would get over the initial high of the relationship, and would begin to realize that there was not as deep of a connection between myself and the other person as I had thought. In reality, I didn’t even know them as well as I thought I did. Sometimes the relationship would seem to exist only within my mind and the reality of the situation was different from what I had initially believed. This was a form of insanity for me, and I repeated the same patterns over and over each time expecting the outcome to be different. Although I may sound as if I believe my story is unique, I know that this sort of romanticizing is quite common. Between the movies people see, the television we watch, and the books people read, we have been given some pretty unhealthy ideals of what love is.
When I hear someone speak of their partner as their “better half” it does not sound right to me. A healthy, loving relationship is when two whole individuals come together, not when people are looking for someone else to complete them. It took me a while to realize this truth. I had come to a place in my life where I was able to recognize my pattern with unhealthy relationships and see that this was making my life unmanageable. I decided that I was going take a break from relationships for a while, get healthy, and spend some time working on myself. I struggled with old behaviors, but managed to push through them. One of my favorite quotes by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel that has become my mantra is “Self-respect it the fruit of discipline; the sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no oneself.” I spent the next 11 months getting to know and respect myself. I was striving to become a dignified woman who no longer yearned for outside distractions to fill the void I felt inside.
At the end of the eleven months I had begun to transform into a much more stable and self-confident person, and was blessed to find a healthy relationship. I could not have the relationship that I have today with myself or anyone else, without having gone through the hard work I did to become a healthier woman. I have learned that love is not a feeling. It is an action. My loving actions help support my partner and we encourage each other to continue to strive to be our highest selves, even if that means that we grow apart. If I treated my love as a feeling, I would stay in the fear of losing her and would eventually find myself acting in the non-dignified ways that had trapped me for so long. We are all creative, dynamic, ever-expanding souls whose nature is to grow, and we must embrace this. As a complete person who is no longer looking for someone else to complete me, I have an obligation to act in healthy and loving ways towards others and myself.
July 11, 2010 | 3:02 pm
Posted by Chanel Dubofsky
On the hike to Tel Dan, I lose it. “That’s so gay,” my student says, turning around to his friend to make sure he hears. We’ve been on this Birthright trip for maybe four days, and this word is already quite popular. It can apparently refer to anything: food, one’s personality, the entire Israeli Navy. This time, though, there aren’t 38 people around so the word can get lost in the crowd, there’s no closed hotel room door to serve as a buffer. There’s just me, and him, and my stark, raving madness.
“Seriously,” I say, my hands making awkward, twitchy gestures, “We are not using that word anymore on this trip.” He looked surprised. “I’m sorry if it makes you upset,” he says. “I won’t do it around you.” “That’s not the point,” I tell him. In my memory, my voice is particulary shrill. “You shouldn’t use it at all.” “My brother is gay,” he says. “He and his friends call each other faggots all the time.”
In my arsenal of thoughts about this includes commentary on internalized oppression, reclamation, homophobia, etc, but nothing I could translate into anything that didn’t sound like theory gobble-ty gook. So I just said, “It doesn’t make it okay for you to say it. You’re implying that being gay is bad.”
We floated away from each other, and I continued to flaggelate myself for the rest of the day. I remain sure that I could have handled it better. I could have taken a deep breath first, I could have processed it more quietly and productively with him. The only thing I could think of was, this has to stop. I can’t let this go on, this is what’s wrong with the world-people don’t stop bad things when they see them happening. People are too scared to confront each other. People like me.
He apologized to me, by the way, later that week on Shabbat. My co staff and I decided this was a victory-he’d thought about it and realized that something was wrong. I still don’t know what the impact was on the rest of our group, on the people who had come out earlier in the week, who probably heard him and others saying things like that, who sat next to him on the bus and shared a room with him.
I’m not generous enough sometimes. I’m too busy being angry to recognize that people can change. For a moment on that hike, I contemplated doing nothing because I didn’t think I could do the right thing, the perfect, life altering thing. I worry that this fear of screwing up, of confrontation, is going to stand between me and opportunities for change in the future. There’s so much tied up in that package: gender, stigma, the challenge of meeting someone where they’re at while trying to impact them. These are all things we can be taught to deal with in a Jewish context, and that we have to be taught, because in the insane, heteronormative world of Judaism, incidents like what I’ve described will happen again and again.As one of my favorite colleagues likes to say, there is no such thing as a missed opportunity.
July 9, 2010 | 4:37 am
Posted by Tera Greene
The best part about knowing Israelis is that, despite all the drama they have to deal with, they keep a great sense of humor in life. One of my fellow Taglit-Birthright Israel trip-mates forwarded this to our group, and I just wanted to repost. Read the article. Think what you wish. But know that Israel is the best place in the world to feel free, in my opinion.
The article can be found in it’s original post here, and I’ve posted the first paragraphs below:
Dancing soldiers to star in educational video
Commander of ‘dancing’ brigade summons two officers involved in controversial video, tasks them with making educational video against similar incident in future
Published: 07.07.10, 23:17 / Israel News
The dance that rocked the net will get a sequel. Colonel Amir Abulafia, commander of the Benjamin Brigade, summoned on Wednesday two of the soldiers who participated in the IDF dance video, which was uploaded onto YouTube and became an instant hit worldwide.
Abulafia told the two squad commanders that they did not act appropriately by participating in the video while donning their uniform, armor and weapon – but because their behavior did not display any moral flaws, he decided to give them an educational assignment.
The two will star in an educational IDF video that will attempt to prevent similar incidents in the future…
Read entire article here
July 9, 2010 | 12:13 am
Posted by Sasha Perry
This came from LGBTQ Nation. Link follows.
“Gay rights advocates scored a major victory in federal court today, as a U.S. District Court judge in Boston struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law that defines marriage as a legal union exclusively between one man and one woman.”
The court’s reasoning?
“...the passage of DOMA marks the first time that the federal government has ever attempted to legislatively mandate a uniform federal definition of marriage–or any other core concept of domestic relations, for that matter.
Congress undertook this classification for the one purpose that lies entirely outside of legislative bounds, to disadvantage a group of which it disapproves. And such a classification, the Constitution clearly will not permit.”
Well said, in my opinion.
You can read the whole article here
As well as get pdf files to both rulings in the cases.
July 8, 2010 | 9:21 am
Posted by Naomi Goldberg
Thoughts? I sometimes wonder why Rabbi Greenberg stays some place (in Orthodox Judaism), when it objects to so many things about him, especially when other movements of Judaism are much more understanding and welcoming of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and (sometimes) transgender Jews.