Posted by Maital Guttman
Op-Ed: Embrace LGBT Jews as vital members of the community
By Lynn Schusterman · June 18, 2010
TULSA, Okla. (JTA)—Next week, as millions of people around the world celebrate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month, we in the Jewish community will mark the occasion with a pivotal milestone: the first-ever Jewish LGBT Movement Building Convening, to be held June 27-29 in California.
Organized by the leading Jewish LGBT organizations, Keshet, Jewish Mosaic: The National Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity and Nehirim, the gathering will bring together 100 leaders of LGBT synagogues, organizations, foundations and other representatives to create a unified Jewish LGBT agenda for change.
As a proud funder of the convening and longtime supporter of Jewish LGBT work, I believe now is the ideal time for the Jewish community to foster a welcoming, inclusive environment for LGBT Jews and to stand up for LGBT equality.
Religion and faith have long been isolating topics in the LGBT world. In 2007, Angelica Berrie and I hosted the Conference For Change, which was designed to put issues of equality, diversity and inclusivity on the Jewish communal agenda. As a participant in the track focused on LGBT Jews, I heard far too many stories from talented, committed Jewish professionals who still felt excluded or invisible within our community because of their sexuality. Many even feared losing their jobs if they came out publicly.
The fact is, despite some signs of progress—the Jewish Theological Seminary deciding to admit LGBT individuals and the ordination of the first transgender rabbi, to name two—the overall pace of change within our community in this area has been far too slow. The continued marginalization of LGBT Jews is especially disheartening for those of us who believe in the power of a fully inclusive Jewish community that embraces every Jew as “b’tzelem elokim,” made in God’s image.
Our people represent a tapestry of interwoven identities embodying the rich diversity of what it means to be Jewish. When we neglect or deny the needs of any population within our community, we not only weaken the strands of this tapestry, we also drop the mantle of leadership we have assumed when it comes to protecting and advocating for the civil rights of minority populations.
This is why now, more than ever, we need to uphold LGBT inclusion and equality as fundamental tenets of our community.
The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation (CLSFF) has made a serious commitment to fostering a welcoming Jewish community for LGBT Jews and embracing all who look to Judaism as their path to personal meaning and fulfillment.
As an important step, we are asking all Jewish organizations to join our foundation in adopting non-discrimination hiring policies that specifically mention sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. We are also challenging donors to join us in holding organizations accountable for doing so. We at CLSFF stand ready to share sample policies that can be adapted easily to fit any organization.
I am proud to state that every national Jewish organization we support enforces non-discrimination practices around sexual orientation and that more than 70 percent have written policies in place covering gender identity and expression. Moving forward, we will only consider funding organizations that have non-discrimination policies covering both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
Adopting formal non-discrimination policies—and ensuring their implementation—will help us achieve two goals: 1, they will indicate to LGBT individuals that the Jewish community is committed to full LGBT inclusion; and 2, they will guarantee that our institutions are walking the talk when it comes to being welcoming and diverse.
This work is vital to the health and vibrancy of the American Jewish future. LGBT individuals make up an estimated 10 percent of the general population, and it is thought that the same holds true in the Jewish community. Anecdotal evidence, however, suggests that few LGBT Jews and their families choose to connect to Jewish life. I believe this is in no small part because so many Jewish organizations are ill-equipped, or unwilling, to meet their needs and those of other marginalized constituencies.
While many of these organizations are well intentioned, most simply do not realize they are falling short. Case in point: A 2009 survey found that while most synagogues consider themselves welcoming of gay and lesbian congregants, few have any LGBT-inclusive programs or policies. These findings are applicable to institutions well beyond synagogues.
To change this paradigm, we must put a stake in the ground. Non-discrimination policies are an effective way of doing so, but they are not an end in themselves. We can and must also:
* Build knowledge. With education comes understanding. Keshet and Nehirim are excellent sources of information about the needs, contributions, interests and sensitivities of LGBT Jews.
* Become an ally. We should show support and speak out on behalf of LGBT inclusion. Last year, 300 clergy members ventured to Washington to lobby Congress about LGBT equality with the Human Rights Campaign. Last October, thousands of Jewish allies and LGBT Jews marked the ancient holiday of Simchat Torah by marching together on our nation’s capital to demand full equality.
* Implement additional policies and practices. Organizations should take a comprehensive look at their policies, procedures and practices to ensure that they reflect a culture of inclusiveness. For example, are health benefits open to domestic partners? Do all forms, documents, images and literature reflect gender-neutral language, such as Parent 1 and 2 instead of mother and father?
* Train lay and professional leaders. It is vitally important that we train and support Jewish educators, clergy, program staff, youth and lay leaders to ensure that LGBT youth, families and staff are safe and affirmed in all Jewish educational and community settings.
In an era when all Jews are Jews by choice, our community and, in turn, our nation benefits from every source of Jewish vitality and strength, including the creativity and vibrancy of LGBT Jews. Starting with the groundbreaking convening in California, let us begin to forge a culture in which inclusivity, diversity and equality are paramount, and in which LGBT Jews are embraced as full and vital members of the Jewish family at home, at work and in every aspect of communal life.
Now that would be something in which we could all take pride.
(Lynn Schusterman is the chair of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.)
see the JTA article
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July 4, 2010 | 12:52 am
Posted by Lia Mandelbaum
I am blessed to have parents who are supportive of me regardless of my sexuality. My father has made it clear that he loves me unconditionally, but in the back of his head, still wishes that I would find a nice Jewish guy to settle down with. I know that the main reason he thinks this way is because he believes that for me, choosing to spend the rest of my life with a woman, will be a difficult path. Throughout my struggles over the last few years, I have come to believe that life is tough no matter what obstacles you face. There is not a person in this world that does not struggle with something. Some people’s lives appear completely put together on the outside, even if emotionally, they are falling apart. I spent a lot of time comparing the way that people looked on the outside to the way I felt on the inside. I was constantly projecting how I felt onto other people. Everyone else seemed to be comfortable in their own skin, and the reality is that it’s possible that they were struggling too. My experience has been that when I go through life pretending to be someone I’m not, that is extremely harder than the life I will live as a gay woman.
Many times, I have been engaged in debates as to whether or not being gay is a choice, or if it is something that you’re, “born with.” I felt frustrated by these conversations, because I interpreted their opinions as underlying judgments. Granted there is some truth in the idea that we are born with a specific sexuality, and there is also some truth in the fact that we reach a place in our lives when we must make a choice. The point is that we must choose to live with conviction in every single thing we do, and embrace ourselves for exactly who we are. Ideally, I would rather hear the debate shift towards whether or not someone accepts who they are, no matter what adversity that might bring. The question becomes whether or not the person facing adversity surrounding their sexuality, will buy into the fear of judgment created by society, and whether that will prevent them from experiencing true intimacy both with them self and with others. The sad truth for most people is that no matter what their sexuality may be, people choose to wear masks and hide who they are, out of fear of not being accepted. Although I have made huge progress in accepting who I am, both sexually and spiritually, I still struggle with the idea that if they truly knew me, they would not accept me.
It is scary to think about how detached our society has become. We are living in a world surrounded by constant distractions. We have created a society that is tremendously uncomfortable in stillness. I find that we often go to great lengths to find ways to distract ourselves from the voids that we feel and are often afraid to face. If we have a desire for healing and wholeness in the world, we should make an obligation to ourselves to be brave and genuine. We must each find our own divine spark, that voice we find within stillness, in a society that we are often so removed from.
I believe that coming out of the closet is so much deeper than just admitting your sexuality. It is about being open and vulnerable. It is letting go of the myth that perfection exists and bringing forth all the different parts of yourself, even the ones that are broken. It is when I experience other people’s vulnerabilities that I find G-d’s tremendous presence in my life. G-d speaks to me through other people, and allows me to see myself mirrored within those around me. When I embrace the unique and divine spark that everyone has inside of themselves, I am not standing in the way of allowing other people to experience G-d in the way that I have. I think that the bravest thing that you can possibly be is yourself.
July 3, 2010 | 5:53 pm
Posted by Maital Guttman
Tel Aviv is known as the “gay city” of Israel. Some estimates say that 15% of Tel Avivians are LGBT, probably because most Israelis who are gay escape the smaller towns for the big city of night life, beaches, and fabulouness. But Be’er Sheva, a smaller city in the South of Israel (the Neveg), is making its own steps towards inclusivity. This year, the municipality, which included an ultra-Orthodox Jew, approved the first Gay Pride Parade. Hear from Shai as he described the triumphs and challenges of the day.
June 29, 2010 | 10:13 am
Posted by Sasha Perry
A few weeks ago I attended Los Angeles’ Pride Parade. It was my first in the States as an adult. Growing up, Las Vegas wasn’t organized enough or maybe not queer friendly enough to have a Pride parade that I can recall. My first several Pride events took place in Jerusalem. I was very happy to be part of the marches, and more than thrilled to attend the late night, semi-secret drag shows that happened during the festivities. While it didn’t occur to me that Pride looked different from city to city, there was a definite sense of uniqueness that surrounded the Jerusalem Pride. I thought the crowds were large and boisterous, which I immediately found to not be true when I came to LA Pride. To me, it seems that LA and Jerusalem are making very distinct statements in their Pride events. In LA I was surprised to find that not everyone marches in the Parade. There are organizations and churches, clubs, and even radio stations, all with their very large and creative floats and music. The streets are lined with supporters, folks from the LGBTQ community, friends, and allies. It seemed to me that the LGBTQ community was marching for each other. It was less a political statement as much as it was a celebration of all things queer.
Here in Jerusalem, Pride takes on a much different meaning. Everyone in the LGBTQ community, their friends, family members, and allies marches in Pride here. There is no one set apart, all are participants, and all are making a statement. Obviously the numbers here are smaller, but Pride here is still making a political statement of queer identity within a religious city, and we need all the voices and bodies we can get. Walking through the streets of LA there was a small number of people from the Westboro Baptist Church, holding their signs of hate and bigotry. Walking through the streets of Jerusalem the hate was more pervasive. Orthodox Jews held up ropes tied into a noose screaming that queers needed to die. Young girls held signs dooming all queers to a level of hell that I was pretty sure Jews don’t even believe in. To my surprise, the majority of the people in the Pride march, just walked by, not giving more than a second glance at the protesters. With all the diversity of the parade I was inspired by the solidarity of everyone involved. There was an unspoken consensus that the little fights didn’t matter, but that the large battle of being seen in Jerusalem was of utmost importance. In LA, queers are seen. That’s not to say that we don’t have discrimination and hatred and our own battles to wage. But in Jerusalem, folks of the LGTBQ community are still fighting for the awareness that they even exist, while in San Fransisco queer culture is so visible that there’s even a queer anti-Pride, calling on the SF community to take back Pride from corporatism and media.
I hope that one day the Pride in Jerusalem can look as outlandish and beautifully loud as that of Los Angeles or SF. That one day LGBTQ folks in Jerusalem will be as visible as Haredim. And I hope that we can support the community on this side of the world until it happens, and when it does, Pride in Jerusalem is going to explode.
June 28, 2010 | 3:34 pm
Posted by Chanel Dubofsky
The economic crisis has forced Jewish communities to focus more on the quality of its relationships than on the amount of its programming. It’s a novel idea, sadly, but a good one. The problem is, of course, the execution.
The idea that we as Jewish educators can use our own Jewish journeys, our experiences, our real selves to connect with young Jews trying to figure what this whole Jewish business means to them, is powerful, and it works. But it requires more than just transparency-it necesitates strategy, nuance, and a keen understanding of how privilege works.
LGBTQ allyship can be a tricky business. To do it right means understanding the depth of heteronormativity in Jewish communities and how it impacts young Jews every day. When we assume that everyone around us is heterosexual, when we assert our own heterosexuality as the norm, rather than making space for students to come to us on their own terms, we make it difficult to impossible for them to feel that Jewish communities are welcoming.
Allyship can be as simple as not directly assuming that a person has a partner of the opposite gender. It can be about not talking about your own straightness constantly. It certainly means confronting your own homophobic assumptions, and interrupting homophobic situations when you see and hear them. In Jewish spaces, think about the emphasis on heterosexual dating situations, having an organization dominated by heterosexual staff, attending a training on how to create truly inclusive Jewish communities. Teaching and transmitting allyship as a practice is made more complicated by the pervasive atmosphere of heterosexual coupling in all facets of the Jewish community. Therefore, using words like “partner,” instead of “boyfriend” or “girlfriend,” or downplaying in certain situations one’s desire to be married or partnered-in other words, confronting and deconstructing heterosexual privilege for the sake of building a strong, inclusive Jewish world.
The sad truth is that none of this matters unless it’s a priority, unless we’re serious about examining heterosexual privilege and how Jewish communities as structured around it. There need not be a discrepancy between showing your authentic self and being a strong LGBTQ ally, but there does need to be a recognition that the assumption of heteronormativity is rampant in Jewish communities and toxic to their growth. It is not enough to say that we welcome everyone, if our next words prove that what we really mean is everyone who is just like us.
June 28, 2010 | 9:01 am
Posted by Tera Greene
Before the past weekend began, I was sent a message in my inbox that made me perk up and want to help out. Los Angeles is a sprawling city, and CicLAvia is a project that aims to open seven miles of streets to bikes, pedestrians, dogs, families and strollers, by closing them to cars on
Sunday, September 12
Sunday, October 10, 2010 (10/10/10). If you live in Los Angeles, tell your friends and join the fun this fall! Even if you don’t live in Los Angeles, still consider supporting this cause to help our community play together better, even if only for a day.
See the video my friend Marie made and donate to the cause here:
This project will only be funded if at least $7,000 is pledged by Sunday Aug 15, 2:34pm EDT. Pledges begin at a dollar.
CicLAvia’s profile on Kickstarter
Have a meaningful week and thank you!
Thanks to everyone who donated a little bit to help make a big difference in this project’s outcome. As you can see, this idea raised 118% of it’s goal, so Ciclavia is DEFINITELY happening! Yay! Please save the NEW date: 10.10.10 and share this information with your friends. I mean, there’s nothing like closing down streets for pedestrians, street art, bicycling, etc, for 5 hours. You can get all the current information about this event by going to the website’s action page!
Tera “Nova Jade* Greene is active, artsy and into helping fund cool projects. She can be contacted via her personal website.
June 28, 2010 | 4:55 am
Posted by Maital Guttman
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
USSF “Social Justice” Forum Bans Advocate for Middle East Gay Community
Intolerance for Israel Trumps Human Rights Commitments, Causes Harassment of Scheduled Speaker
and Sudden Cancellation of Educational LGBT Workshop
[Los Angeles—June 23] Today, StandWithUs, (SWU) was suddenly banned from presenting a Gay Rights workshop at the international US Social Forum (USSF) conference being held in Detroit, Michigan, from June 22 to June 26.
USSF notified SWU on Tuesday, just two days before SWU was scheduled to present its “LGBTQI Liberation in the Middle East” session.
“The cancellation letter claimed that we had ‘masked the true nature’ of the workshop and were really trying to ‘defend Israel,’ but this is patently false,” according to SWU Midwest Director Brett Cohen, an expert on gay issues in the Middle East who was approved by USSF to lead the session. “We gave them our program plan and background about our organization, and website information months ago. In all that time, the conference organizers never asked for more information.” Cohen has been harassed for several weeks by USSF participants who emailed him intimidating messages with thinly veiled threats that violence might break out at his session. The organizers of the USSF were unwilling to offer security at the workshop, and warned Cohen, “Security is important to the US Social Forum. At the same time, the social forum is an open space,” implying that Cohen’s physical safety might be at risk.
In their message to the forum, the organizers stated that they cannot, “allow the workshop to proceed uncontested.”
“The real tragedy is that once again, the voice of the persecuted Middle Eastern LGBTQI community is being silenced. They face murderous persecution and discrimination. In Iran, gay men are forced to undergo sex change operations, or face execution. Across the Middle East, gays are murdered by their own families in ‘honor killings.’ They face active discrimination and often, legal punishment for the ‘crime’ of being gay. We wanted to highlight their plight using videos and documents produced by LGBT rights organization members who live in hiding for fear of death in every country in the region except Israel. Our goal was to shed light on their plight and connect conference participants to these important organizations so that they could offer assistance and shed light on this viciously persecuted minority. I thought building these coalitions was the purpose of this conference,” said Cohen.
“Apparently, USSF was so afraid that participants might indirectly learn that Israel has an outstanding record on LGBT issues and is a refuge for persecuted gays in the Middle East that they chose to turn their backs on the cries for help from this suffering minority across the region. This was the only workshop about the plight of gays in the Middle East, but the organizers’ unfortunate prejudice against Israel trumped their commitment to human rights. And they tried to ‘shoot the messenger’ by harassing and intimidating Brett Cohen, and to make sure the message for much needed help was never heard,” said SWU CEO Roz Rothstein.
SWU has been committed to education about LGBT suffering in the Middle East. The organization has had projects such as iPride 2009, which connected non-Jewish gay leaders from around the world with the annual Tel Aviv Pride event and introduced them to gay Israeli politicians and to many different gay rights organizations with offices in Israel. SWU’s campus advocacy programs have always included education about gay issues in the Middle East.
“The USSF response highlights once again how anti-Israel prejudice and ignorance hijacks and perverts human rights values, and clouds the judgment of those who claim to be human rights activists. They refuse to acknowledge Israel’s many efforts to find a path to peaceful co-existence. In effect, they end up supporting radical groups and intolerant governments that make a mockery of all their purported ideals. They have shown that they are so focused on hating Israel that they cannot focus on standing up for the people at risk like those in the LGBTQI community who suffer under the oppressive regimes. When USSF and other activists take these positions, they don’t seem to be proponents of human rights. Instead, they are hypocritical or actually enemies of human rights and of peaceful co-existence. The leaders of the USSF have shamefully silenced the suffering of Middle East gays because of their own hateful intolerance. Anti-Israel bigotry is alive and well at the USSF. Such bigotry is a grave threat to human rights values everywhere when obsessive focus on Israel trumps all else.” concluded Rothstein.
StandWithUs (SWU) is a nine year-old, international, non-profit Israel education organization that ensures that Israel’s side of the story is told on campuses, community, libraries, schools and in the media. SWU hosts speakers, programs and conferences in cities around the world, takes missions to Israel, offers website resources and creates brochures and materials about Israel in a variety of languages and on a variety of topics, that are distributed globally.
www.standwithus.com and www.standwithuscampus.com and www.standwithus.co.il.
June 24, 2010 | 4:15 pm
Posted by Lia Mandelbaum
On August 23rd, 2007, I boarded a plane heading for Los Angeles in hopes of creating a new life. I had been struggling with depression for several years, and finally believed that I had hit an emotional bottom. I came to L.A seeking recovery and a new way of life at Beit T’Shuvah, the Jewish residential treatment center that I now work for. It was time to get real with myself, something that I hadn’t been for more than ten years. I was completely disconnected from myself and everyone around me, and did not know who I really was anymore. I had created so many masks to hide behind, unable to reveal my biggest secret, that I am a gay woman. I had known that I had feelings towards women from a very young age. The first time I admitted my feelings to my mom, I was five years old. I explained to her that I had feelings for my female preschool teacher, “the same way a husband has for a wife.” By the time I reached eighth grade, I had begun to create masks to conceal my true identity.
In my recovery, I have come to realize that I had created all these masks out of my own fear of judgment from others. I believed that if people were to know the truth about who I was, those I loved and trusted would disapprove or stop loving me. Ultimately, I came to the realization that my feelings were those which society had placed in my head, and I was projecting my own feelings onto those around me. I had hidden my sexuality and had become my own harshest critic and biggest oppressor.
I want to take a moment to express the overwhelming gratitude that I have for my life today, I am finally free. As someone who has gone to some very dark places, and spent several years hiding who I was, the fact that I now desire to be completely transparent in writing this blog, is absolutely profound for me. I feel such a tremendous sense of freedom in being able to write my truth. This blog is a testimony of my recovery.
In addition to Beit T’Shuvah being instrumental in my recovery, there is an organization called JQ International, a space for GLBT Jews, which has taken on a meaningful role in my recovery. Last year, I went to Beth Chayim Chadashim’s annual brunch fundraiser. It was there that I met Asher Gellis, Executive director of JQ, and my world opened up. I was invited to volunteer at Single De Mayo, LA’s largest single ladies event, which has been produced by JQ for the past two years. I had never in my life been surrounded by that many proud gay and bisexual women, and I had an amazing time. I felt like I was part of something much bigger than myself, and realized there were so many women out there just like me. I started going to their Shabbat Potlucks, and getting involved with a solid group of young people that I truly respected and was thrilled to have become a part my life. After I started getting involved with JQ, I invited Asher Gellis and Naomi Goldberg to Beit T’Shuvah where they made a brilliant presentation training our counselors and therapists how to create a safe space for the GLBT residents. It was wonderful to see how our staff and volunteers embraced their presentation.
With all that being said, I cannot say that I never struggle. I continue to wrestle with my old mindset, and the ideas placed on me by society. A lot of my old fears still come up, but through contrary action, I continue to move forward. The road towards authenticity is not easy, but I have learned that pain is the touchstone of all spiritual growth. If I can use my experience to help another young woman who is struggling, it will have made my whole journey worth it.