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Jewish Women and LGBTQ Pride

"As a woman, as a lesbian, as a Jew, I know that much of what I call history others will not. But answering that challenge of exclusion is the work of a lifetime."
 – Joan Nestle

Jewish GLBT flag, displaying from a Warsaw building
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GLBT flag with Jewish Star of David, photographed in Warsaw, Poland. Photo credit: Jordan Namerow

In 2000, former president Bill Clinton designated the month of June as Gay and Lesbian Pride Month, encouraging Americans to "recognize the joys and sorrows that the gay and lesbian movement has witnessed and the work that remains to be done." The month was expanded to include the entire gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender (LGBTQ) community by President Obama in 2009. For the LGBTQ community, June is a time when the gray exteriors of apartment buildings are draped with rainbow flags (the official LGBTQ Pride symbol) and traffic is halted as festive parades take to the streets around the country in celebration of LGBTQ identity and visibility.

Since the rise of the LGBTQ movement in the 1970s, Jewish women have played critical roles in advocating for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in civil society, in synagogues, in history books, and in cultural, political, and spiritual life. For many feminists, LGBTQ advocacy is an integral part of feminist responsibility. In 1972, feminist writer Joan Nestle helped launch the Gay Academic Union, and in 1973, she co-founded the Lesbian Herstory Archives, a rich collection of documents and memorabilia of lesbian history and culture, including photographs, recordings, buttons, and publications donated by American lesbians. One year later, political activist Bella Abzug, who was elected to Congress on a strong feminist and peace platform, introduced the first Federal bill to support gay/lesbian rights.

The wedding of Tamara Cohen and Gwynn Kessler, 2004
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The wedding of Tamara Cohen and Gwynn Kessler, 2004. Photo courtesy Tamara Cohen

Recent decades have brought many advancements for the LGBTQ Jewish community: the establishment of LGBTQ synagogues, gay/lesbian haggadahs, the ordination of gay/lesbian rabbis, rabbinic officiation at LGBTQ commitment ceremonies, and much ritual and liturgical innovation. All of these changes have helped transform LGBTQ Jewish experience from silence and erasure, to dignity and celebration.

It can be complicated to assign contemporary LGBTQ identities to women of the past, and many today continue to struggle with the heterosexual norms of our secular and Jewish communities. Pride month is an important time to recognize the experiences of all LGBTQ people of the past and present. While there is still much work to be done, we invite you to honor Pride month by celebrating some of the Jewish women who have contributed to the richness of LGBTQ experience and worked toward the full inclusion and acceptance of LGBTQ-identified Jews in American Jewish life.

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Do you know of another Jewish woman committed to LGBTQ rights who should be listed on jwa.org? Use the comment field below to tell us about her work and why you think she deserves recognition. If possible, include a link to her website or a site with more information.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Jewish Women and LGBTQ Pride." (Viewed on December 22, 2014) <http://jwa.org/discover/throughtheyear/june/glbt>.

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