In February the findings of a study of the inclusiveness of American synagogues towards gay and lesbian Jews revealed that most rabbis overestimate how welcoming their synagogues actually are. On Gay Pride weekend I invite my Jewish readers to examine just how welcoming and inclusive towards LGBT Jews their shuls actually are. The preliminary results of the 2009Synagogue Survey on Diversity and LGBT inclusiveness indicates that shuls have very little to lose and a lot to gain by being inclusive; 41% of rabbis whose congregations actively reached out to gay and lesbian Jews report an increase in membership compared to 2% who reported a decline. Since the percentage of LGBT Jews who belong to synagogues is much lower than that of straight Jews out reach to LGBT Jews represents a potential area of growth at a time when synagogue memberships are declining. Some rabbis in cities where LGBT synagogues exist expressed reservations about competing for members at the expense of those congregations.
What proactive steps can synagogues take to become more inclusive and welcoming to LGBT Jews?
- They can be open to hiring gay and lesbian rabbis, cantors, and educators;
- they can adopt a policy of performing “brit ahava” or commitment ceremonies in states that do not yet have gay marriage and same sex weddings in those that do;
- they can adopt inclusive language (such as “diverse,” “non-traditional” or “alternative families,” “inclusive,” “welcoming,” “sexual orientation,” “gay and lesbian,” and “gender identity”) in mission statements and advertising;
- they can display rainbow flag banners or posters to demonstrate inclusiveness;
- they can offer events and programing aimed at lesbian and gay Jews such as discussions of and social action on behalf of marriage equality, text study of LGBT issues in Judaism, showing the movie “Trembling Before God,” marking Gay Pride Shabbat;
- and congregations that have havurah groups can have LGBT havurah groups.
How many of the above steps have your congregations taken? Please share your answers in the comments section below. Gay Pride Shabbat shalom!