On Sunday, April 7, at this year’s Phoenix Pride Parade, more than 300 Jews from different congregations and synagogues across the Valley banded together to show support for the LGBTQ community. As they marched together, many donned orange shirts that had the Hebrew word for love, Ahava, printed on them.
While the Pride Parade has ended, it is not the end of Jewish support for the LGBTQ community in Phoenix. The Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix has introduced a new LGBTQ-inclusive initiative called Pride to help support Jewish LGBTQ members. Shayna Millman, a Federation development associate, is helping organize the initiative, which is the first of its kind for the agency. She said that the intention of the initiative is to offer LGBTQ community members “a space so they can come together and build a community with one another.”
Millman said that there were many leaders and members of the Jewish community who had approached Federation, concerned that there wasn’t an official space for them. Now there will be.
The Pride initiative is in its beginning stages and is trying to identify key leaders to help build up LGBTQ-focused programs and events, each of which will have a Jewish spin as well.
“I am excited about the new opportunities and support for LGBTQ families and proud of the Federation for taking the lead such an important issue,” said Cantor Ross Wolman of Temple Chai via email. Wolman was instrumental in organizing the Jewish presence at the Phoenix Pride Parade.
One of the Federation Pride initiative’s first events will be an LGBTQ Shabbat Dinner at a private residence on May 10. Millman said that depending on how successful the dinner is, there might be more in the future, with the goal of ultimately creating a larger, accepting LGBTQ community. Acceptance is key, as in the process of developing the initiative, Millman heard stories from individuals of all persuasions about dealing with misunderstanding and abuse.
“We’re looking to build various programs, but we also want those who are a part of this community to have relationships that go beyond those programs,” Millman said. “We’re also working on a Jewish resource guide so they can go for mental health resources or financial assistance.”
The first major event for the Pride initiative on Sept. 18 will feature transgender educator Abby Stein. Stein, a direct descendant of the Baal Shem Tov, was raised in a Chasidic community and was ordained as a Chasidic rabbi. After leaving her community, she became a frequent speaker and writer about her experiences as a transwoman. Stein’s appearance in Phoenix will be followed by the publication of her memoir, “Becoming Eve.”
David Weiner, co-chair of Federation’s board of directors, would like to see Pride host a speaker series featuring Jewish LGBTQ individuals like Stein. So Stein’s appearance could be the start of something bigger.
Weiner said the initiative has gotten a positive reaction from the Jewish community.
“Interestingly enough, we’re finding a lot of support from parents,” Weiner said. “I think a lot of them want to make sure that their children are really part of the Jewish community. So we’re seeing a lot of parents coming out in strong support and we’re having a lot of parents working to try and drive this initiative.”
Weiner and Millman both noted that the Pride initiative is another step for equality and acceptance in the state of Arizona.
On Thursday, April 19, state lawmakers voted to repeal a decades-old law that prevented LGBTQ students from receiving medically accurate information in health education classes at school. The law banned HIV/AIDS instruction that “promotes a homosexual lifestyle,” “portrays homosexuality as a positive alternative lifestyle” and “suggests that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex.” The law, nicknamed “No Promo Homo,” has been in effect since 1991. The repeal passed the state House and Senate with bipartisan support, and Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed it last week.
“The Federation wants to be inclusive and like how we want to serve all areas of Judaism, we want to serve all walks of life and sexual orientations as well,” Weiner said. “We want everybody to feel welcome at the Federation.” JN