A Brief Survey of the LGBTQ Jewish Community
The following survey responses were compiled by Emily Volz as part of her project that this guide is based on. Submissions were edited for clarity.
Were you 'out' about your identities in Jewish spaces while growing up?
If yes, how did this impact your experience in these spaces?
“Yes: at school I was not allowed to hold hands with my girlfriend or have my peers receive any LGBT education. My youth movement, Noam, was very accepting.”
“Yes- I was the ONLY out teen in my synagogue. It was isolating.”
“To the extent that I was a part of Jewish spaces as a teenager, yes. I came out at 16; my Orthodox family members (the major Jewish space I participated in) didn't really acknowledge it.”
If not, was there anything that would have made you want to come out?
“Less heteronormativity, more talk of queer people in religious spaces, talking about possible queer biblical characters.”
“If it didn't feel like I was the only one, and if I knew my rabbi's stance on LGBT people.”
“Any indication of support beyond liberal lip service, any mention of queer people in Jewish law and practice, any mention of the community's relationship with gender.”
“A rabbi who was willing to discuss my sexuality in a non-judgmental way would have been great. I could have used some guidance in seeing how religious traditions could be compatible with modern thought and identity.”
“It would have helped if teachers at school acted as though gay Jews existed. We learned about the concept on such an impersonal and offensive level; it would have made all the difference to have a teacher acknowledge that it's possible to be both queer and a Jew.”
What was the most positive experience you have had in Jewish spaces regarding your identity?
“I went to a small prayer service once the day before pride and we all said a prayer written about LGBT Jews.”
“When I figured out I was queer, I was already active in Hillel, and nobody skipped a beat -- everyone I already knew was just as welcoming as they'd been before, and nobody ever made me feel other or less than. There weren't many other queer people involved in my school's Hillel but I still don't remember feeling othered in those spaces.”
“I had a rabbi in college who was queer and sex positive who showed me that making your own space within Judaism was not a lie they told us to sound more progressive when they didn't really mean it.”
“Choosing, as an adult bat Mitzvah, parshat Kedoshim/Acharei Mot and having the opportunity to work the verses out for myself through my d'var torah.”
“I am still allowed at shul.”
What was the most negative experience you have had in Jewish spaces regarding your identity?
“When people who didn't know I was queer talked about queer/trans people negatively over food.”
“Overnight Jewish camp.”
“Hearing others in my synagogue talk negatively about people in the LGBTQ community. It made me afraid to come out and even deny my own feelings.”
“A lecture from a rabbi where I was likened to a kleptomaniac and told I could never reach the closest relationship with God if I didn't choose to be celibate or straight.”
“I didn't feel comfortable being out on Birthright Israel. It was a really heteronormative trip, with the general pressure of that program for Jews to pair off into heterosexual couples and have Jewish babies, and with some homophobic weirdness from the IDF soldiers on my bus.”
“When I got invited by the best ally of a teacher to speak to her class after graduating on why the unit she was forced to teach called ‘women, gays and the disabled’ was problematic (because she could be reprimanded for saying the same things a guest could say with impunity) some parents literally complained that queer education distorted the purpose of a class on Jewish lifecycle and law. I literally just taught them the basic terminology of queerness and then a brief summary of where each denomination was on various topics of queer inclusion. When this is problematic, why would you want to be a part of that community?”
“Having to write a letter to the board representing the "LGBT community" of the synagogue. I was a teenager. I was the only LGBT person out at shul.”
“At my Chabad on campus house where I went to college, where someone told me they ‘hoped I would marry a man one day.’”
“Orthodox family members pointedly ignoring my partner and her family.”
“When I came out to my Rabbi his response was venomous and dripping with disdain.”
What helps you to feel more comfortable in Jewish spaces?
“No assumptions about anyone's gender or orientation. No pressure to date or get married or have babies, with other Jews or generally. Inclusive liturgy, such as including the matriarchs alongside the patriarchs, both masculine and feminine language for G-d, readings and d’varim that don't hold up heterosexuality and cis-ness as normal or better.”
“Lots of singing and community building, less emphasis on the nuclear family and couples as the building block of Jewish life.”
“Seeing more than 2 people of color; knowing that there are other queer or trans people in the space.”
“Explicit, genuine, thorough-going egalitarianism; explicit acknowledgement (not just tacit acceptance) of queer & gender variant members; serious commitment to thoughtful and engaged text study.”
“Knowing that clergy and Jewish professionals are open, inclusive, accessible.”
“Visual and verbal things showing I'm accepted (pride flag, talking about gender/sexual ids in an inclusive way, etc.).”
“Respectful discourse. I understand that Orthodox Judaism moves slowly, but we need conversation.”
What do you wish that Jewish leaders and educators would do differently regarding queer identities?
“Honestly, I wish there was more discussion coming from the most religious sects that it's okay not to be straight. I think it needs to be explicitly stated in all Jewish environments beginning as early as possible that you're still part of Judaism, that you're not broken or bad or disobeying Hashem by loving who you love. I wish there was explicit discussion about what a gay lifestyle looks like within Judaism.”
“Not assume that the only queer people in their communities are gay men. Expand their ideas of gender and stop enforcing gender roles on people in the community. Tell queer kids that they are not deficient in any way and that they deserve to be celebrated.”
“Be more vocal and visible about their acceptance of everyone on the sexuality and gender spectrum”
“Include them in curriculum in small ways- when speaking about Jewish ritual include LGBT people in the equation. Don't assume everyone in your synagogue or classroom is straight and cis.”
“Explicit acknowledgment of queer & gender variant identities; engaging the issues queer identities raise for family/social/sexual issues broadly; encouraging queer readings of text.”
“Lead more. Take a stand against backward homophobic ideas. Create spaces and events where gay Jews can meet. Value gay relationships like straight ones. Treat them as something good rather than a sad quirk of life.”
“Talk about them in public and assume every time you are talking to at least one Queer person. Get the Keshet safe space sticker and put it everywhere.”
“Read up on them and learn more proactively. Think of us as central Jews in their community rather than outside exceptions. Act on the assumption that there's a queer person listening. Talk positively/understandingly about queer things without prompting.”
“Ask questions. Ask Google, ask queer people in their lives or in their synagogues. Most of us won't be upset by an honest attempt to understand. Most importantly, go with what queer people tell them about *their* identities, even if it doesn't quite make sense to them.”
“That queer does not equal immoral. That it doesn't mean we're throwing religion out the window. That we didn't choose all of this.”
“Don't fixate on this one Jewish law (no gay sex) over other Jewish laws; don't overgeneralize; don't assume a gay person is violating halakha when you give opposite-sex people the benefit of the doubt about things like niddah.”
What do you wish that Jewish leaders and educators knew about queer people in Jewish communities?
“We need you. We want to be a part of the religion but feel ostracized when we have no representation or support.”
“We're everywhere. And it takes many of us years to fully understand who we are, given compulsory heterosexuality and cissexism in the broader world, so be prepared to be accepting and low-key when people explore and settle into new identities.”
“We already exist in your communities. We experience the effects of the oppressive forces and politics you discuss as abstract concepts. We experience hate crimes and white supremacy as homophobic and racist attacks, in addition to anti-Semitism. We need space to grieve and feel scared and angry *as queer Jews*.”
“Queer identities are not just idiosyncratic. They systemically challenge paradigms for the way we construct social, sexual, and familial structures. Those challenges must be discussed head-on if queer identities are to be fully and honestly included.”
“That we aren't going to change, and that they will only lose us if this continues,”
“It's very hard. You are torn between wanting to belong to your community and being true to yourself. There's so much about being part of a Jewish community that you love and desperately want in life but sometime you feel like you have to choose between one or the other. Both are part of what makes you you.”
“’I am gay’ does not equal ‘I do assur things’.”
“We're here, we're queer, we're machmir.”
“There are a lot of orthodox queer Jews who love being religious and want to stay in the community.”
“That oftentimes they are the most passionate Jews. They have questioned their Judaism and often feel themselves to be outsiders in the Jewish community, but that they still show up shows a rare deep connection that should be celebrated and not turned away and wasted.”
“We are still good people. We're not doing this to hurt you. You are actually hurting us.”
“That we exist, and that there are more of us than you realize. Some of us have left Judaism behind because Judaism left us behind. Others of us are trying to continue being Jews and being religious Jews, despite what Jewish law says. Yes, it is possible to be observant/Orthodox and be Queer - and even be in a Queer relationship! Also, some of us waiting for hints that your shul is a safe space. So be proactive. Make clear through words and through policies that your shul or organization or institution is safe for us and that we are valued members of the community.”