Birthright LGBT group in Israel.
(photo credit: COURTESY OF HANNAH SIMPSON)
NEW YORK – A group of some 40 young Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Jews will depart from New York to Israel on Monday as a part of one of Birthright’s niche-trips.
Each year, Birthright organizes around 10 similar trips for the LGBTQ community.
The initiative begun eight years ago, following high demand from Birthright applicants. Since then, some 400 people have participated in these trips, including 31-year-old Hannah Simpson, a transgender counselor on Birthright, who traveled with the latest group.
“The major difference between LGBT Birthright and a normal trip, or a mainstream trip, is that we don’t get so concerned about gender identity or sexual orientation when it comes to rooming,” she told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday, before leaving.
LGBTQ Birthright group
“The reason for this is that it’s hard to make assumptions and we don’t want to put people in more uncomfortable positions, so instead we treat everyone like adults equally,” she said.
During the trip, the group will be meeting with members of the LGBTQ community in Israel, attending the Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade on June 3, and meeting the staff of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, to learn about the community’s history and the issues it faces.
“We are really excited to interact and meet with some of our counterparts who are working on the struggles for LGBT acceptance and inclusion in Israel,” Simpson, who is a writer and advocate for the Transgender community in New York told the Post. “It’s great to meet them and to connect over something that brings us all as Jews together.”
“They have fundamentally different things that they are working on,” she said. “For example, in Israel gay marriage isn’t the biggest thing.
That’s recognized if you have it done abroad,” she explained. “It’s having a secular marriage at all, to form the framework for a gay marriage that is an issue, so there are different battles but they’re in so many ways more similar than they are different.”
Nicholas Mann, who took part in an LGBT Birthright trip in December and also left this week to accompany a mainstream Birthright visit to Israel, added that “being LGBT and Jewish in the United States is not the most easy thing.”
“The more minority groups that you intersect with, generally the more negative experience you’ve had with institutions, especially cultural and religious institutions,” he said. “I think that part of our goal with Birthright and especially LGBT Birthright, is showing the LGBT Jewish community that they are perfect the way they are, that they can exist as both LGBT and Jewish and both are equally celebrated and valid forms of expression,” he added.
“There has been a lot of religious isolationism with LGBT Jews, where people stopped affiliating because they’ve had negative messages in the past, and I think it’s important for us to show that there is a Jewish space for anyone within the LGBT community,” Mann told the Post.
According to him, the most significant thing about the “identity intersection” between being Jewish and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender is that “you are not only in a community that is Jewishly amazing and very accepting of Jews from any walks of life, but also accepting for all those other little minority groups that we can include ourselves in, whether it is political or sexual.
“Israel really is an amazing place,” he concluded. “It is the intersection of so many types of people.”