An Open Letter to a Slightly Over-zealous Ally

Dear Slightly Over-zealous Ally,

First of all, thank you very, very much for your support of the LGBT+ community. It means a lot to me and to everyone out there that identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or vaguely-not-straight. And it’s amazing to see someone who is not LGBT+ be so vocal and supportive of the LGBT+ community in its pursuit for equality and recognition. We would never have gotten to where we are now without you, and we will not achieve our aforementioned goals of equality without your continued help.

However, you said one thing that I’m not sure I entirely agree with. You promised yourself that you will not get married until such a time when marriage equality is recognized in all fifty states, much like Jason Mraz and his fiancee Tristan Prettyman promised the press they would do.

Here’s the thing, though — while I, once again, applaud your effort to show your solidarity with the LGBT+ community, why would you deny yourself marriage? To me, this seems like poking your eyes out to show that you support people who are blind or cutting out your tongue to show you support people who are speech deficient. If anything, you should be getting married, now more than ever! You should be seizing the opportunity to marry now, and be vocal now, not when marriage is available in at least a few states.

To me, this is the same thing as being silent on the National Day of Silence, which is meant to show solidarity with LGBT+ (and other bullied) youth who cannot speak up and defend themselves. Why would you be quiet, when you can be vocal and advocate and defend these youth, if you can? Why, instead, would you chose to be silent when you can be vocal? Why would you chose to abstain from marriage simply because the government in your state (or, currently, the federal government) does not recognize the marital union of two members of the same gender as legitimate?

In early 2010, Sarah Silverman, an American writer, singer, actress, and musician, told The View that she would refuse to get married until same-sex marriage is legalized in all fifty states because it would be akin to joining a country club during the 1950s and 1960s that refused to allow African-Americans or Jews. I ask you: why, instead of refusing to join the club, would you not join the club and try to change it from within? Why, instead, refuse yourself the ability to enjoy the benefits of a country club entirely, when you can both be a member of the club and, at the same time, work within the country club to promote tolerance and acceptance?

The same applies for marriage. Refusing to marry as a heterosexual couple will not change anything. Getting married and being vocal about your support for marriage equality will cause change, even if in the smallest of ways.

So, in conclusion, I give you my express permission and blessing to get married to your future partner when you feel the time is right, and to not wait or abstain from marrying on my account — far be it from me to keep you from enjoying the rights that you and I both deserve, and far be it from me to keep you from enjoying the rights that you currently enjoy as a straight person. So please, show your solidarity with the LGBT+ community by getting married and by remaining a vocal ally of the LGBT+ community.

Thank you,

Amram

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The Attempt to Queer Jewish Religious Spaces

An article published in the Huffington Post last week shed light on a new program led by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles which involves synagogues across denominations to take part in a pilot program that lasts for one year. The program involves members of the synagogue to participate in workshops that open up the synagogue in question to openly queer members, regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression, with the help of an outside representative from HUC-JIR.

While there do exist synagogues that are specifically created by and for queer Jews, such as Congregation Beth Simhat Torah in New York, Congregation Bet Haverim in Atlanta or Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco, there exist very few Orthodox synagogues that are LGBT-affirming. Indeed, many say that they are open and accepting, but those who (like me) identify as both LGBT and Orthodox often feel uncomfortable in an Orthodox setting because, even the most liberal accepted approaches, such as in the Statement of Princples from last year, employ the “love the sinner; hate the sin” policy: queer members should be accepted, but the act of homosexuality should be condemned.

With declining membership rates in synagogues — a phenomenon that is not unique to one denomination of Judaism — this seems, to me, not only to be an excellent way to boost membership, but to help include a community that has long felt on the fringe. However, I should point out that the article does not once mention an Orthodox synagogue (although the program is designed for all denominations); in fact, the article makes nary a mention of Orthodoxy with the exception of the beginning of the article, which portrays Orthodox synagogues as supporters of reparative therapy and woefully unwelcoming and to say that many Orthodox synagogues are actively not welcoming to LGBT members.

While this seems somewhat — well, okay, mostly — true, the article does not really reflect Orthodoxy or its movement to accept the LGBT movement. For example, Congregation Darkhei Noam in New York is an Orthodox-affiliated synagogue on the Upper West Side that has fully accepted the LGBT community, and has even allowed an openly gay couple to convert and name their baby. That having been said, there are no other fully-LGBT-affirming Orthodox synagogues that I know of personally (although I’ve been told that more exist), this still represents a significant shift in the Orthodox movement to accept the LGBT community in a way that’s not “love the sinner; hate the sin.” Additionally, the organizers of the program do not believe that the Orthodox movement will sign on to the new program, since the change has to come from the community; this is because most of the Orthodox movement still has yet to fully accept — or even want to accept — the LGBT community.

Well, that’s disappointing to hear, now, isn’t it?

One thing, though, that’s comforting (for me, at least) is that I’m not the only one who reads a mission statement for a synagogue that identifies as “open and accepting,” and interpret it as “open to everyone except gays.” Additionally, it’s high time that few congregations offer programming specifically geared toward LGBT members and couples or actively working to attract LGBT members and couples.

Fewer, still, are actively trying to engage LGBT teens, which is what probably hurts me the most.

That having all been said, this program is still a pilot, so it’s entirely within the realm of possibility than an Orthodox synagogue will join and create their own task force and partake in the program, although it seems highly unlikely, if even possible. Several synagogues are scheduled to complete the pilot program within the coming months, so we’ll have to see how exactly this plays out. Stay tuned!

Where are the LGBTQ Jews?

In an article by Mark Segal in LGBTQNation, Segal, the publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News, pondered the noted absence of LGBTQ Jews within the world of Jewish history. He writes:

Here’s the rub. Many of the most prominent pioneers of the LGBT community were Jewish; perhaps the most well known, Harvey Milk, does not even get a mention. In fact, in what might look like a backhanded insult to the LGBT community, there are two gay men in the museum’s Hall of Fame gallery — Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein — who are both closeted thanks to the [National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia], as neither of their displayed bios mentions it.

Not only is this discrimination by censorship, it reminds me of a time when, in the Jewish tradition, if you discovered something about a member of the family that was shameful, you didn’t talk about it.

It think that it’s important here to note that I do, also, fault the museum for not mentioning leaders in the LGBTQ movement through the twentieth century — Harvey Milk, as perhaps the most famous of these people is a prime example.

However, I do also think that Segal is slightly one-sided in his writing. While the museum is indeed at fault for never mentioning Milk or mentioning Sondheim’s or Bernstein’s connections to the queer community, this is a relic of the past era, like Segal dutifully notes.

While the museum in Philadelphia might be stuck in the past, the Jewish community itself — and, of course, the rest of the world — are warming up to the idea of Jewish LGBTQ heroes. Indeed, however, you can see all of the collaboration (collab, for short) channels of queer YoutTubers, and yet none of them, it seems, are openly Jewish. This was one of the reasons that I began and created my YouTube channel (the first video of the aforementioned channel was posted earlier today).

Regardless, however, there are organizations that exist today that serve to help LGBTQ Jews, organizations that are no doubt not mentioned within the aforementioned museum. These organizations — Keshet and Nehirim — are actively working to promote and advocate for LGBTQ Jews. Keshet recently launched a poster campaign that promotes the lives and legacies of Jewish LGBTQ figures, such as Harvey Milk and Kate Bronshtein.

The world — the Orthodox world — is changing, and changing rapidly. There are new articles, new petitions every week that advocate for both the expulsion of the queer Jews from the Jewish community and the inclusion by others. While the museum is a relic of an era where gay, lesbian, and bisexual Jews were shunned and ignored, that is something that is rapidly changing.

And so, I implore you, my readers, to understand that this museum is not representative of the Jewish world as a whole, nor is it representative of the Orthodox world as a whole. The facts are true, yes, but the implications are not. Orthodoxy is becoming more and more open, more and more accepting.

The Thriving LGBTQ Life & Cinema in Israel

Although Israel has yet to allow for civil marriages within the country (currently, you must either have a religious ceremony — any religious ceremony — or get a civil marriage outside the country that Israel promises to cross-honor), Israel is still the leading country in the Middle East regarding civil rights for those who identify as part of the LGBT community. In Israel, approximately 3/5 of all citizens support civil marriage for same-sex couples in Israel. Israel is one of five countries (the others are Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, and Cyprus), where homosexual intercourse between two consenting adults is not considered a crime.

Members of the LGBT community in Israel are protected under anti-discriminatory laws that affect the workplace, allow for adoption of children, allowed to serve as openly LGBT in the military, and are allowed to change their gender through HRT and SRS. In August 2009, when people inside Tel Aviv’s gay and lesbian youth center were massacred, Israeli former-president Shimon Peres and current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the violence.

Last year, approximately 70,000 people marched in Tel Aviv’s Pride Parade.

Perhaps what epitomizes LGBT life is Tel Aviv, which is, in turn, epitomized by the flourishing queer cinema in Israel that takes place today — be it Tomer Heymann’s films about the LGBT community (such as Paper Dolls, which discusses a group of Indonesian transvestites working as dancers and cartakers to old Jewish men in Jerusalem) to Israel’s Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival (which is, ironically, floundering), LGBT cinema is thriving in Israel’s film industry.

In 2009, Gay Days, a documentary about the emergence of LGBT life in Israel, was released. Although I have not yet seen the film, you can do what I did and read the wiki on it here.

Earlier today, LGBT films made headlines in Variety. Additionally, Debra Kamin points out, Tel Aviv has become the go-to destination for LGBT nightlife

Tel Aviv, where 70,000 marched in this year’s Gay Pride parade, has long been a place where attitudes and dress codes are laid back and gay clubs are a prominent component of the city’s thriving nightlife.

So confident is Tel Aviv’s tourism association in the city’s appeal to the gay community that it recently launched a massive branding campaign, dubbed Tel Aviv Gay Vibe, hoping to entice gay and lesbian visitors from all over the world.

Tel Aviv hosts an industry that creates, produces and exports a disproportionate number of movies with gay themes and characters.

Despite Israel’s conservative government, Kamin points out, Israelis as a whole have been overwhelmingly accepting of the LGBT community — gays and lesbians were allowed to serve openly in the Israel Defense Forces for far longer than Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell has been repealed.

Although the Jewish Orthodox community (the community that the Israeli rabbinate) has yet to fully accept the legitimacy of the LGBT community (this controversy is for a whole other set of blog posts entirely), the three other major branches of Judaism — Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist — have all accepted the legitimacy of the LGBT community (the Conservative movement insofar as they believe it to be no worse a sin than any of the other sins the members of its community face — their words, not mine). Despite this, however, Israel remains at the forefront of the fight for LGBT equality within the Middle East today.

Hello Blogoshere!

Hey everyone!

Welcome to kosherqueer. My name is Amram, and I’m a 16-year-old gay Conservadox Jewish teenager living in the greater New York City metro area. I started this blog because of the apparent lack of other blogs and organizations dedicated specifically to LGBTQ-Jewish high schoolers.

I wrote more about myself in the ‘About Me’ section of the blog, so feel free to hop right on over to there to check that out.

Also, I am now on twitter. Follow @kosherqueer for more updates and tweets.

Happy blogging!

Amram