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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 Displayed from a Warsaw Building
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GLBT flag with Jewish Star of David in Warsaw, Poland.
Courtesy of 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.

Wedding of Tamara Cohen and Gwynn Kessler, 2004
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The wedding of Tamara Cohen and Gwynn Kessler in 2004.
Courtesy of 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.

11 Comments

There was no LGBTQ movement in the 1970's. There was a Lesbian movement, and a Gay one. Sometimes they overlapped, mostly they did not. Q and T were added much much later, which, IMO, only serves to make actual Lesbians and Gay men invisible. The alphabet acronym- which many radical feminists disavow - also makes it oh so easy for people to avoid saying "Lesbian" "Bisexual" etc and does the great disservice of lumping us all together. That said - mazel tov to all the Jews who are involved as Lesbians, Gays, etc.

You don't have any bisexuals. You really should have at least one Jewish bisexual activist; what about Brenda Howard? Brenda Howard is known as the "Mother of Pride" for her work in coordinating the first LGBT Pride march. She also originated the idea for a week-long series of events around Pride Day which became the genesis of the annual LGBT Pride celebrations that are now held around the world every June. Additionally, Howard along with fellow LGBT Activists Robert A. Martin (aka Donny the Punk) and L. Craig Schoonmaker are credited with popularizing the word "Pride" to describe these festivities. As LGBT rights activist Tom Limoncelli put it, "The next time someone asks you why LGBT Pride marches exist or why LGBT Pride Month is June tell them 'A bisexual woman named Brenda Howard thought it should be.'"

Bio and (not quite current) list of publications: http://huc.edu/faculty/faculty...

Rabbi Margaret Moers Wenig D.D
Wenig's 1975 Siddur Nashim (with Naomi Janowitz) was the first to use feminine imagery for God. Her 1990 sermon, "God is a Woman and She is Growing Older," has been published ten times (three times in German) and preached by rabbis from Australia to California.
Her 1985 resolution (written with Rabbi Margaret Holub) was a catalyst for the creation of the CCAR's "Task force on Homosexuality and the Rabbinate" whose report, adopted in 1990, endorsed the ordination of lesbian and gay rabbis.
Her "Guidelines for Welcoming Lesbian and Gay Jews into the Synagogue" (developed for a UAHC regional Biennial) has been published and used in the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements.
Her sermons "The Gay Community's Stake in Same Sex Marriage" and "The Jewish Community's Stake in Same Sex Marriage" were preached at a time when much of the lesbian and gay community opposed seeking civil marriage rights and the Jewish community had barely begun to discuss it.
The resolution she wrote and, with Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum and Russell Pearce, submitted to the Commission on Social Action (in 1995) was among the factors that led to the Reform movement's earliest endorsement of civil marriage for same sex couples.
Her "Tribute to Alexander Schindler" and her contribution to the festschrift in his honor (see Publications, below) are the first published histories of the initially slow move by the Reform movement to embrace gay-rights and gay- Jews.
The school-wide seminars she organized at HUC-JIR, NY (in 2002 at the invitation of Dean Panken) and at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (in 2003) were the first in any rabbinical school to address psychological, legal and religious issues affecting people who are intersex or transsexual. For a day-long workshop at Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in NY, she created (with Reuben Zellman) a"Transgender Museum" with multiple exhibits participants could view at their own pace. Her sermon that day, "How Do You Say 'Transsexual' in Hebrew?" explored the spiritual lessons she has learned from transsexuals.
Wenig was among the first rabbis, outside of a gay-outreach congregation, to preach about AIDS (1985) and to provide pastoral care for people with AIDS.
She was the first rabbi to teach (with the camp doctor, an epidemiologist) about AIDS and safe-sex in a UAHC camp (1987).
Her congregation began raising money for people with AIDS through GMHC's very first AIDS WALK (1987).
In 1988 Rabbi Wenig appeared on ABC's daytime soap opera "All My Children" with three Christian colleagues. They played themselves, as members of the Interfaith Pastoral Care Service of the AIDS Resource Center, of which Wenig was then the only Jewish member.
Among Wenig’s Publications:
"Welcoming Lesbian and Gay Jews Into Our Synagogues," New Menorah, Spring 1991.
Reprinted in:
Kaafikim Banegev: A Manual for Rabbis to Engage their Communities in Embracing Lesbian and Gay Jews, edited by Sara Paasche, David Rosen and J.B. Sacks (for the 1994 convention of the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement).
"A Guide for Kehillot Mekablot (Welcoming Congregations)" in Homosexuality and Judaism: A Reconstructionst Workshop Series, edited by Rabbi Robert Gluck, Reconstructionist Press, 1992
"Truly Welcoming Lesbian and Gay Jews," (a history and a challenge) in The Jewish Condition: Essays on Contemporary Judaism Honoring Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, edited by Aron Hirt- Manheimer, UAHC/NY, 1995 (available online from amazon.com)
"The Jewish Community's Stake in the Legalization of Lesbian and Gay Marriage," in Civil Marriage for Lesbians & Gay Men: Organizing in Communities of Faith, Lambda Legal Defense and EducationFund, Inc. New York, 1996
"The Gay Community's Stake in the Legalization of Lesbian and Gay Marriage," in Civil Marriage for Lesbians & Gay Men: Organizing in Communities of Faith, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. New York, 1996
"Tribute [to Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler]" in Kulanu (All of Us): A Program for Congregations Implementing Gay and Lesbian Inclusion, A Handbook for UAHC Congregations, UAHC, 1996

"Beyond Acceptance - Meeting the Needs of Your Lesbian and Gay Congregants," in Kulanu (All of Us): A Program for Congregations Implementing Gay and Lesbian Inclusion, A Handbook for UAHC Congregations, UAHC Press, 1996

"There's a Place for Us: Gays and Lesbians in the Jewish Community," with Sharon A. Kleinbaum, in the Life Lights series, ed. Rabbi Nancy Flam, Jewish Lights, Woodstock, VT., 2002 (available online from Jewish Lights)

Editor of A Reader and Web/Bibliography on Gender Identity, The Intersexed and Transsexuals:Religious, Legal and Policy Issues, April 2002 (available in the HUC-JIR, NY, Library)

"Male and Female God Created Them" in Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible, ed. by Drinkwater, Lesser, and Shneer, NYU Press, 2009.

Revised and Reprinted in:
Judaism and Gender in Conversation, ed. by Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, CCAR Journal: A Reform Jewish Quarterly, forthcoming, Fall, 2012
"Spiritual Lessons I Have Learned from Transsexuals" in Balancing on the Mechitza: Transgender in Jewish Community, ed. Noach Dzmura, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, 2010. A Lambda Literary Award Winner.
In the News
"Long on Vision: In her 10 years there, Rabbi Margaret Moers Wenig has transformed congregation Beth Am in Washington Heights," NY Jewish Week, June 17-23, 1994

"45 for Tomorrow: A new generation of young leaders to take the NYJewish Community into the 21st century," NY Jewish Week, January 20, 1995

"5 Sermons No One Slept Through: Excerpts from Memorable 20th Century High Holiday Sermons," by Marc Saperstein, Reform Judaism, Fall, 2000
"Experience Necessary: A Rabbi Whose God is a Loving and Long- Suffering Mother," by Ralph Blumenthal, The New York Times, August 31, 2009.

Hi JWA! I'm so glad you're focusing on LGBT activism this month. I'd like to highlight the work that Jewish Mosaic accomplished on behalf of LGBT inclusion in Jewish communities.

In 2002, I co-edited Queer Jews (with David Shneer) which was published by Routledge. It's still in print 10 years later, and has been adopted in numerous university courses on the sociology of American Jewish life.

The national book tour for Queer Jews prompted me to co-found Jewish Mosaic: The National Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity in 2002 (along with David Shneer and Gregg Drinkwater). I was proud to serve as Jewish Mosaic's director of research until the organization merged with Keshet in 2010.

Jewish Mosaic was the first national research and policy org devoted to creating a more inclusive Jewish world. We conducted comprehensive needs assessments of LGBT Jews for Federations in New York, San Francisco, and Colorado, and we influenced policy makers to devote staff and financial resources to LGBT programming in those cities. Jewish Mosaic participated in a collaborative study of LGBT inclusion in synagogue life across all denominations. We organized conferences for Jewish educators and professional staff, and convened national meetings on how to create safe, LGBT-inclusive Jewish communities and build a visible, national movement for LGBT equality in Jewish life. Jewish Mosaic also created the first comprehensive website of LGBT Jewish resources, documents, curricula, etc. on a range of topics.

Hope that's helpful. I'm really proud of what Jewish Mosaic accomplished in the 8 short years of its existence.

All the best, -Caryn Aviv

Rabbi Denise L. Eger should be honored! Eger is the first female president of the Southern California Board of Rabbis at present and is also the first openly gay or lesbian president of this body. She is the founding rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami: West Hollywood's Reform Synagogue which is presently celebrating its 18th anniversary.

Rabbi Eger has an impressive biography. She has worked extensively with people with AIDS. She served as co-chair of the Community Advisory Board of the Shanti Foundation and is a past Chair of the Spiritual Advisory Committee of AIDS Project Los Angeles. She is past Co-Chair of the Institutional Review Board for Search Alliance, an AIDS drug research organization. She co-chaired the Gay and Lesbian Rabbinic Network for two years. She is a past Treasurer of the Women's Rabbinic Network. She was the founding President of the Lesbian, Gay, & Bisexual Interfaith Clergy Association. She served on the Board of the No On Knight Campaign/No on Proposition 22. and is active on the steering committee of the California Faith for Equality. She is a member of the Religion and Faith Council of the Human Rights Campaign..

Rabbi Eger helped to organize the Southern California Gay and Lesbian Jewish Professionals Group, which brings together gay and lesbian Rabbis, Cantor, Jewish communal workers and educators in the L.A. area. She is a board member of the Institute for Sexual Orientation and Judaism of Hebrew Union College and an advisory board member of Jewish Mosaic.

Rabbi Eger is the past chair of the Task Force on Gays and Lesbians in the Rabbinate of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and also served on Human Sexuality Committee of the CCAR and represents the CCAR on the Joint Commission on Synagogue Management with the UAHC.

Rabbi Eger was instrumental in helping pass the March 2000 CCAR resolution in support of officiation and gay and lesbian commitment ceremonies. She is co-author of the official Reform movement gay and lesbian wedding liturgy.

Rabbi Eger has written many articles that have appeared in magazines and newspapers such as Compass, Reform Judaism, The Advocate, The Jewish Journal, and the Los Angeles Times including contributions to the books, Twice Blessed: On Being Lesbian, Gay and Jewish (Boston: Beacon Press, 1988) and an article on Judaism and Homosexuality in the new edition of Positively Gay, edited by Betty Berzon (Berkeley: Celestial Arts, 2001). Rabbi Eger's work is also featured in a collection published by the Union of American Hebrew Congregation, Jewish Question Our Children Ask, edited by Olitzky, Roseman, and Kasakove. Rabbi Eger was featured in a book by Suzanne Sherman, (Temple University Press) Gay and Lesbian Marriages. She has been featured in the book UNCOMMON HEROES, as one of 150 prominent gay and lesbian role models in the United States. She also authored a chapter in the book entitled Conflicting Vision ÌøåÀå_ Contemporary Debates in Reform Judaism by Routledge Press. Rabbi Eger has contributions to Breaking the Glass: A Spiritual Guide to Your Jewish Wedding (Weiner, CCAR PRESS, 2001). Rabbi Eger wrote a chapter in the book, Lesbian Rabbis: THE FIRST GENERATION by Elwell, Alpert, and Idelson (published by Routledge Press, August 2001). And she was featured in the photographic collection, Rabbis: The Many Faces of Judaism by George Kalinsky. (Rizolli Press, 2002). Rabbi Eger has contributed articles to the Women's Haftarah Commentary and new Women's Torah Commentary published by the Women of Reform Judaism.

Rabbi Eger has won numerous awards for her dedication and activism. She was recognized for her Social Justice work in 1992 by Metropolitan Community Church with the Pat Underwood Community Service Award. In 1996 she was given then Rainbow Key by the City of West Hollywood and the West Hollywood Lesbian and Gay Advisory Council. In 1998 she was awarded the LACE Spirituality award by the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. In 1999, Rabbi Eger was named Business Woman of the Year by the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the City of West Hollywood's Women's Advisory Council. Rabbi Eger was honored in 1999 by the Freedom to Marry Coalition for her work to support Gay and Lesbian Marriage Rights and Rites. In February 2000 Rabbi Eger was named as an ANGEL AMDIST by the City of West Hollywood for improving the quality of life in the city. In October 2000 was awarded the PARTNER IN FAITH award by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches for her outstanding work on the Reform Movement's position on officiation at Gay and Lesbian Ceremonies. She was given the Shomer Tzedek award by Kol Ami on the occasion of the congregation's tenth anniversary. Rabbi Eger received Spirit of Hope Award for her AIDS activism from Being Alive in 2004. She was featured in Los Angeles Weekly as one of the Persons of 2006. She was named one of the Forward 50 in 2008.

i'd like to add beverlee sclar to the list of lesbian activists. beverlee would not be inclined to celebrate herself, but she should be honored for her wonderful work as a feminist psychotherapist. she was a co-founder of FOCUS, a feminist counseling center "for women and their friends" and was an innovator in delivering caring services to people from all economic, social and sexual identities. she is a woman in whom our community can take PRIDE!

Laura Thor is a beautiful soul and tireless advocate providing transgender care to individuals and groups in the Littleton, CO area. We salute Laura and her devotion, skill and understanding. She makes the world a better place for us all. http://www.laurathorcounseling...

I'd suggest you add Billie Luisi-Potts, former director of the Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, NY. I can't look up her e-mail while I'm in this format but you can e-mail me for it.

I'm one of the 74 women on your feminism exhibit.

There are no Jewish Transwomen represented in your list; this is an omission that should not be allowed to stand. Please consider Joy Ladin, a poet and a proud Jewish transgender voice.

Podcast here: http://www.tabletmag.com/tag/j...

Partial listing of her books here: http://sheepmeadowpress.com/pa...

LeslÌÄå©a Newman is the author of the infamous, groundbreaking children's book Heather Has Two Mommies. My mother loved Heather Has Two Mommies and we found it especially relevant when our new neighbors moved in and my new playmate, Hannah, also had two mommies. LeslÌÄå©a Newman has since written several more children's books about gay and lesbian families, including Mommy, Mama, and Me, and Daddy, Papa, and Me.

LeslÌÄå©a Newman's contributions extend far beyond her work in children's literature. She is also an award-winning author of literature and poetry for adults that deals with her identity as a Jew, a lesbian, and as a Jewish lesbian. Her award-winning short story A Letter to Harvey Milk has been made into a film and adapted for the stage. In 2009 I attended a writing workshop she led at my synagogue, and found her to be warm, engaging, and absolutely brilliant. Her work is absolutely essential reading for Jewish women at all stages in their lives.

Visit her website at: http://lesleanewman.com.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Jewish Women and LGBTQ Pride." (Viewed on February 21, 2017) <https://jwa.org/discover/throughtheyear/june/glbt>.

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