Next week, as millions of people around the world celebrate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month, we in the Jewish community will mark the occasion with a milestone: the first-ever LGBT Movement Building Convening, to be held June 27-29 in California.
Organized by the leading Jewish LGBT organizations, Keshet and Nehirim, the event will bring together 100 leaders of LGBT synagogues, groups and foundations to create a unified agenda for change.
As a funder of the conference and longtime supporter of such efforts, I believe that now is the time to foster a welcoming, inclusive environment for LGBT Jews and to stand up for LGBT equality.
Religion and faith have long been isolating topics in the LGBT world. In 2007, Angelica Berrie and I hosted the Conference for Change, which was designed to put issues of equality, diversity and inclusivity on the Jewish communal agenda. As a participant in the track focused on LGBT Jews, I heard far too many stories from committed professionals who still felt excluded or invisible because of their sexuality. Many even feared losing their jobs if they came out publicly.
Despite some signs of progress — including the Jewish Theological Seminary deciding to admit LGBT individuals and the ordination of the first transgender rabbi — the pace of change has been slow. The continued marginalization of LGBT Jews is especially disheartening for those of us who believe in the power of a fully inclusive community that embraces every Jew as b'tzelem elokim, or "made in God's image."
Our people represent a tapestry of interwoven identities embodying the rich diversity of what it means to be Jewish. When we neglect or deny the needs of any population, we not only weaken the strands of this tapestry, but drop the mantle of leadership we have assumed when it comes to protecting and advocating for the civil rights of minority populations.
Along these lines, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation has made a serious commitment to fostering a welcoming Jewish community for LGBT Jews, and embracing all who look to Judaism as their path to personal meaning and fulfillment.
We are asking all Jewish organizations to adopt nondiscrimination hiring policies that specifically mention sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. We are also challenging donors to join us in holding groups accountable for doing so. We at our foundation stand ready to share sample policies that can be adapted easily to fit any outlet.
Every national Jewish entity we support enforces nondiscrimination practices around sexual orientation. Moving forward, we will only consider funding groups that have written policies in place covering gender identity and expression.
Adopting — and then implementing — formal nondiscrimination policies will help achieve two goals: They will indicate to LGBT individuals that the Jewish community is committed to full inclusion; and they will guarantee that our institutions are walking the walk when it comes to being welcoming and diverse.
This work is vital to the health and vibrancy of the American Jewish future. LGBT individuals make up an estimated 10 percent of the general population; it's thought that the same holds true in the Jewish community. Anecdotal evidence, however, suggests that few LGBT Jews and their families choose to connect to Jewish life. I believe this is in no small part because so many Jewish organizations are ill-equipped, unable or even unwilling to meet their needs and those of other marginalized constituencies.
In an era when all Jews are Jews by choice, our community and, in turn, our nation benefits from every source of Jewish vitality and strength, including the creativity and vibrancy of LGBT Jews.
Lynn Schusterman is the chair of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.