I witnessed history being made earlier this week by representing the Jewish Outreach Institute at the LGBT Jewish Movement-Building Retreat, which was covered in the Forward newspaper and which we previously blogged about here. The conference conveners were kind enough to invite JOI’s participation because of the overlap in our work: JOI seeks to create a more inclusive Jewish community for all who have been marginalized, which of course includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Jews. And while JOI’s focus has traditionally been on the largest segment of the disengaged – interfaith couples – that focus also represents an area of overlap because studies suggest that LGBT Jews are inter-partnered at even higher rates than heterosexual Jews.
Still, I was one of the few conference participants representing an organization that was not working full time on LGBT-specific issues. I was also one of the only heterosexual participants, which was a powerful experience in itself. In several conversations, I sheepishly “outed” myself and hoped I would be accepted and that I wasn’t disturbing the safe space created by the conference. Of course, the irony is that this momentary discomfort about my sexual orientation is what the nearly one-hundred folks in the room have all experienced countless times in a wide variety of situations throughout their entire lives. And unlike the universal welcome I received at the conference after revealing myself, they have often been met with hostility, discrimination, or sometimes even violence. And they continue to be, which is why this conference was so important.