American Jewry is increasingly reaching out to the gay community with programs
designed to integrate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jews into local,
regional and national organizations.
The upcoming LGBTQ Pathways to
Jewish Leadership program, sponsored by the Jewish Community Federation in San
Francisco and aimed at “nurturing LGBTQ Jewish leaders,” while part of the
general effort by American Jewry to keep the younger generation involved,
represents this growing focus.
“The San Francisco Bay Area is home to the
fifth-largest Jewish community in the United States, and to a huge and diverse
lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer population, including an estimated
36,000 LGBTQ Jews.
And, yet, there are few out-and-proud LGBTQ Jewish
leaders in the region’s organized Jewish or LGBTQ worlds,” Nora Smith, the JCF’s
social media coordinator, explained in an oped.
“Participants,” she said,
“will be trained to develop their own personal leadership style, to better
understand how to see themselves as LGBTQ Jews and leaders, and to learn the
history and current needs of our Jewish community.”
Speaking with The
Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, Katherine Tick, the director of leadership
development at the JCF, explained that “while in the Bay Area, we can meet out
LGBTQ Jews in all sorts of situations, we don’t have many out LGBTQ Jews as part
of organizational decision-making,” and that “we are too often tokenized.”
“Just as in the
broader Jewish community, there are many opinions, styles, experiences, needs,
histories and no single individual can encapsulate them all. It is the same in
the LGBT community; having just one LGBT leader doesn’t well represent the
breadth and depth of the LGBT community,” she said.
According to Stuart
Kurlander, the immediate past president of the Jewish Federation of Greater
Washington who is openly gay, there is interest in leadership positions among
While efforts to increase their involvement in professional
leadership roles, he said, things have been “moving in a more positive
direction,” if slowly.
“In the Jewish community as a whole,” he said,
“there is a significant interest and desire in engaging LGBT Jews in the
organizations and in leadership roles, and this is clearly more becoming
increasingly more common as the place of LGBT people is continuing to evolve” in
the wider community.
While efforts thus far consisted of “more grassroots
activity on the local level,” he said, he believes that American Jewry is “on
the cusp of more national involvement as organizations, from the JFNA [Jewish
Federations of North America] to major federations, AIPAC [and others] are
reaching out to this constituency.
“Our leadership should represent the
diversity of our community,” Kurlander said.
The JFNA, a national
umbrella group representing local federations, has been involved in the issue
for a number of years, a spokesman told the Post.
nationally have continued to take a leadership role on LGBT
Jewish Federation General Assemblies have hosted receptions
with the LGBT inclusion group Keshet, for example. The Combined Jewish
Philanthropies of Greater Boston [precursor to JFNA] provided seed money to
Keshet as well,” the spokesman said.
Richard Feczko, the interim
executive director of Keshet, which advocates for LGBT Jews, told the Post that
while “much work” remains to be done, he is happy “to see some Jewish
Federations moving toward greater support and inclusion of LGBT
“Since our inception over a decade ago, Keshet has had federation
[financial] support,” he said.
Jewish federations in New York,
Washington, DC, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Seattle and Arizona all run programs for
“We have made some major changes in our programming and
outreach in the recent past, mostly due to the increasing openness at many of
our area congregations and the world in general,” Ellen Freeman, the director of
the LGBT Inclusion Project at the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, told
“We still offer stand-alone programs, but the majority of what
we offer now are truly collaborative efforts including other departments of the
federation and its agencies” and other groups, she said.
A recent report
on LGBT inclusion showed that “half of the 204 Jewish nonprofits that were
surveyed were involved in LGBT inclusion and 66 percent were actively reaching
out to the LGBT community,” according to Susie Gelman, the North American
co-chairwoman of the JFNA’s 2013 General Assembly, to be held November 10-12 in
“In contrast, a similar survey of Fortune 500 companies showed
only about 4% were involved in inclusion activities.”
However, while LGBT Jews have expressed appreciation for
efforts made to include them in the wider community, not everyone agrees that
all of the efforts are as well executed as intentioned.
believe that much progress has been made in outreach efforts to the LGBT Jewish
community,” Jayson Littmanm, the founder of he’bro, a gay event promotion
company in New York, told the Post.
However, he said, “It’s also
important to note while efforts to engage gay Jews has been significant, the
Jewish organizational community needs to understand the different needs of those
within the LGBT community.
Outreach and engagement efforts may be
different for men, women and the trans community. Just as there are many
affiliations within the Jewish community, the LGBT community has many
individuals with different identities within the acronym of
“There is definitely a disparity between young LGBT community and
the young straight community,” he continued. This is “mainly for the reason that
young LGBT folks, especially the younger ones once they come out... tend to
heavily assimilate into the gay community.”
“I find that most gay Jews,
their primary identity is their gay identity and their Jewish identity is
secondary,” he said.
“We strive to become more inclusive and to engage
all segments of the Jewish community,” said Reuben Romirowsky, vice president
for affinity at UJA-Federation of New York. “UJA-Federation of New York’s Jewish
Community Study found that at least 5% of Jewish families have an LGBT member.
Providing supports and programs creates opportunities to engage the LGBT
community in Jewish life.”