Categories
LGBT News Social Justice

The Supreme Court Today Accepted the CCAR’s Position: Title VII Bans LGBTQ Workplace Discrimination

Just less than a year ago, the CCAR joined with other faith groups in submitting an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County.  At the time, I shared a message about what that brief said.

Today, the Court decided the case.  By a 6-3 vote, it held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bans workplace discrimination against LGBTQ individuals.  People who assume that the Court always votes on strict ideological lines will probably be surprised by this outcome and by the fact that Justice Neil Gorsuch, regarded by many as a safe conservative, authored the majority opinion.

One reason we keep producing amicus briefs is that neither this nor any other court can be so easily catalogued.  While judges have ideological tendencies, most of them do attempt to apply the law.  This decision used some very traditional legal reasoning to determine that the Civil Rights Act means what it says: treating a man differently from a woman, or vice versa, violates the law.  If a woman who is attracted to man cannot be fired for that reason, neither can a man who is attracted to men.  End of story.

Our brief dealt with whether there might be occasions where someone might not have to obey this law for religious reasons.  We said any such occasions were few and far between, and certainly didn’t come up here. The Court agreed with our second point.  If and when that question is legitimately presented in the future, we will again be prepared to share our views.

In the meantime, our most basic position was affirmed: federal law protects LGBTQ individuals from discrimination.  For today, that is reason enough to rejoice. 

Categories
inclusivity LGBT Prayer Reform Judaism shabbat

The Updated Gender Language of CCAR Shabbat Table Cards Makes Room at the Table for Everyone

In 2018, my first year as the editor of CCAR Press, we published an innocent looking, laminated table card for Friday nights. Thanks to Rabbi Dan Medwin, the card was almost finished when I joined the project, except for the pictures, the folding (if you do not understand how to fold and unfold it, follow the page numbers!) and two pieces: Praise for a Partner and Praise for a Child. Those two little pieces became the first two pieces I wrote for the CCAR and, in a way, for you. While writing those pieces, I made two decisions: I replaced the traditional praise for a Woman of Valor with the Praise for a Partner; and I merged two separate blessings for sons and daughters into one blessing, In Praise of a Child, including both the traditional male and female role models. 

Creating the cards marked the beginning of my work as editor of CCAR Press, but their publication was embedded in a conversation that began a long time before I sat down at my desk. For years, the CCAR has been engaged is conversation around gender in the rabbinate and in Reform Judaism, as seen in the use of “mi beit” in Mishkan T’filah, creative gendering of wedding blessings in Beyond Breaking the Glass and in L’chol Z’man V’eit, new Reform life-cycle certificates with gender-free options, etc. Since 2017, the CCAR Task Force on the Experience of Women in the Rabbinate has addressed the reality of life in the rabbinate as experienced by women rabbis, and in 2018, the CCAR updated the guidelines for all submissions to CCAR Press to include non-binary language both for ourselves and for God.

This year, with the upcoming publication of Mishkan Ga’avah: Where Pride Dwells, edited by Rabbi Denise L. Eger, the CCAR is continuing to open its sanctuaries not only in acceptance, but also in celebration and gratitude, for the many LGBTQ voices, both of congregants and rabbis, that have made our Movement into what it is today. These voices will continue to guide us toward a deeply inclusive and holistic experience of our community and all of God’s aspects. At the end of the year, we are expecting the publication of Supplements 2020 to L’chol Z’man V’eit: For Sacred Moments/The CCAR Life-Cycle Guide (or, as you might also call it, “The Rabbi’s Manual”), which includes individual prayers and complete rituals mindful of the different identities and life choices we embody together. 

Jewish expectations are high and overarching, and they get reiterated again and again: in the words of the traditional Woman of Valor; in the Blessing for Children on Friday Nights; and in the form of Torah, Chuppah, and G’milut Chassadim at central moments of our lives. These liturgical texts make up a powerful framework to be measured against: to be smart, to be successful, to be learned; to be happily married, to have kids, to be a caring and supportive member of your family; to be a generous, active, and righteous part of both the Jewish and global community. Our expectations are high and their height is stressful. 

There are many different kinds of feminism. Some feminists focus on the protection, enhanced visibility, and full empowerment of cis-women. Others are engaged in questioning those very categories. For yet others, a feminist reading of society might lead to radical changes in their theology, politics, identity, and occupation. Some feminists make space for non-binary language; others speak and write about the pain high societal expectations so often cause for everyone.

The CCAR table cards do not lower expectations drastically: The partner described still fully embodies our Jewish values of ethics, productivity, wisdom, generosity, and care. Built out of traditional phrases that can easily be sung to traditional tunes, the Praise for a Partner still describes an ideal partner, and the gender-inclusive Blessing for Children is neither non-binary nor does it provide less-than-idealistic role models to the youngest of our family members.

It is all the more important, then, that we hold in our thoughts some guiding principles while our lips speak these renderings of traditional liturgy:

  • In the words of liturgist Marcia Falk: We bless our children for who they are right now—and for who they will become (Marcia Lee Falk, The Book of Blessings: New Jewish Prayers for Daily Life, The Sabbath, and the New Moon Festival (New York: CCAR Press, 2017), p. 124–125). 
  • We bless our partners for all they are to us—and all they will become. 
  • It is our full acceptance and love for all this is that make Shabbat into a piece of the world-to-come (Babylonian Talmud, B’rachot 57b)—our knowledge that whoever we are right now might not be perfect, but it is good (enough) for this very moment.
  • Finding the balance between our acceptance and love of ourselves, others, and the world we inhabit and our openness and readiness to change is part of our often winding journeys: as adults, children, partners, parents, siblings, colleagues, bosses, and assistants.  

Because what we want, ultimately, is to create spaces that are filled with Shabbat, food, and blessings—for everyone present. For absolutely everyone. 

Categories
LGBT News parenting

A Thank You Note to My Son

Rabbi Peter Kessler is senior rabbi at Temple Ohev Sholom in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Here, to honor Transgender Awareness Week and the transgender community, he shares an open letter to his son, Floyd.

Dear Floyd,

I loved spending the past weekend with you at Alfred University. Your freshman year is off to a stellar start!

Your dad and I could not be prouder of you as you continue your journey to becoming a responsible adult. I’d like to tell you some of the reasons I am so proud of you, and your adjustment to life off at college.

Floyd Kessler with his college art project,
Jack, the puppet

We have always been a “different kind of family.” You never had any issues adjusting to a world that may have looked at you sideways as you had two dads. You were always kind, polite, and were more interested in changing the world rather than fighting change. When you told us that you were born into the wrong body and were transgender, I was brought back to the time in the 1970s when I was your age and told my parents that I was gay. They were frightened that I would be cast aside by friends and family, unable to have a happy life, and that I would not able to become a parent. I helped prove to them that my life was just beginning—and that happiness would certainly come my way.

But you have taken that story to another level. You came into our lives and taught us how to become loving parents, strong allies of the disadvantaged, and open to any possibility that you brought home, even when you told us that you were transgender. We supported you by taking you to therapists and doctors to guide you, and you supported us with your words of encouragement, worrying more about us than yourself, and allowing us to walk with you on this often difficult journey.

Floyd Kessler’s artwork on display
at the Art Association of Harrisburg

Of course you were blessed with an open loving congregation, kind and caring friends, and KESHET, the national organization that works for LGBTQ equality in all facets of Jewish life. Your involvement with KESHET and your openness to help everyone in the trans community who comes to you for advice and support makes me proud of you every day.

Now you are becoming an adult, and while you still hug us and love us unconditionally, as your parent I must thank you, and tell you that you are an inspiration to any parent blessed to have a son like you. We are proud of the person you are becoming, and we’re proud of your artistic talent as you create the pieces that chronicle your story into becoming the person you needed to be.

Floyd, thank you for being an amazing person, one committed to making the world a better place, and someone I will always love unconditionally.

With love and admiration,

Papa

Categories
LGBT Social Justice

We Just Told the Supreme Court: The CCAR Opposes Employment Discrimination against LGBTQ Individuals

Among its various activities, the CCAR signs on to various briefs filed amicus curiae.  The term means “friend of the court.”  Amicus briefs are designed to inform a court about relevant facts and law that the parties to the case might not have had reason to focus on.  The CCAR signs on to several of these briefs a year, both in the U.S. Supreme Court and in state and lower federal courts.  I serve as the amicus coordinator for the Conference.

In the Supreme Court term that just ended, we signed onto a brief in Commerce Dept. v. New York that opposed the effort of the Administration to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.  The Court agreed that this effort was illegal.  Of course, not all our briefs convince the courts, but they all get our opinions before them.

The start of the coming Supreme Court term, around Rosh Hashanah, will hear oral arguments on three consolidated cases that deal with employment discrimination against LGBTQ people.  The issue that all of them present is whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects these employees because such treatment constitutes prohibited sex discrimination. 

In Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda, a skydiving instructor was fired because of his sexual orientation.  In R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a funeral director was fired after she informed her employer that she was transgender.  The employer had insisted that she present to the public according to her gender at birth.  In Bostock v. Clayton County, a county child welfare services coordinator was terminated when his employer learned that he was gay.  Two of the federal appellate courts hearing these cases determined that these firings were prohbited by Title VII; the other held that Title VII didn’t bar the termination.  The Supreme Court will resolve this dispute.

I shared the story of each case in order to remind us that court decisions are not just abstract intellectual matters.  How the Supreme Court rules will have a major impact in the lives of real people.

We signed onto a brief arguing that LGBTQ discrimination is indeed illegal under Title VII.  The URJ, WRJ, and MRJ joined us in this.  But this was a very special sort of brief, the kind that an amicus brief should be.  It was written specifically for religious organizations and clergy.  Denise Eger let members of the Conference who are on the Facebook page know about this brief and gave them an opportunity to sign on as individuals.

The brief explains why several religions, including ours, views equal treatment of LGBTQ individuals as a religious imperative.  It refers to actions and positions taken by these religious organizations, including the CCAR and the URJ.  It counters arguments made by other faith groups that their religious beliefs in effect require them to discriminate against LGBTQ people.  It responds that allowing such discrimination in effect favors those religions at the expense of ours and of others who share our views.

We cannot know how the Court will rule.  We can know that we have told it that allowing some to discriminate against LGBTQ people on religious grounds will also constitute discrimination against our way of practicing our religion.


Rabbi Thomas Alpert serves Temple Etz Chaim in Franklin, MA.

Read more about the brief on the CCAR’s website.

Categories
Books gender equality LGBT Social Justice

On the Shoulders of Revolutionaries: Queering Jewish Texts and Reform Ritual

As a child, I could see myself becoming a rabbi. And now, as a queer rabbinic student, I can envision myself echoing the call of women rabbis who demanded to see themselves in tradition.

Queer readings of Jewish texts are liberating – they explode traditional categories of classification and rigid ways of thinking.  Rather than pushing readers toward clear cut understandings of biblical figures, aggadic material, and Jewish law, queer analyses of texts open up and shed light on multiple truths and ways of being in relationship to Jewish ritual and values. I believe that one feature of any sacred text is its ability to capture and say something about the human condition. Understanding a text through a queer lens has the power to not only locate universal human truths, but also to amplify these sacred elements, allowing us to see themes and characters as constantly changing. In opening texts to new meanings, we as people then have the permission and power to understand ourselves as constantly changing, traversing borders, and breaking down barriers. Queer theory also pushes us to challenge the binary nature of labels like, “sacred and profane,” acknowledging that the line between such categories is constantly shifting and permeable. When the boundary between sacred and profane is understood in this way, the brokenness and injustices of our world can become sites of sacred work, partnership, and healing.

While there are many scholars, clergy people, and Jewish organizations engaged in the project of queering Jewish space and text, I would argue that the power and full force of this work has not yet been incorporated into many Reform congregations. How would a “queering” of Jewish space look in mainstream Reform Judaism? Perhaps it would challenge our, often, hierarchical leadership structures, open up the possibility for new rituals in our congregational life, or push us to embrace and name every aspect of the human experience, like anxiety, joy, anger, and frustration in our worship. What would it mean for our congregations if gender was experienced not as a set of defined behaviors, but a fluid and ever changing category? Would there still be a brotherhood poker night? Or a sisterhood fashion show? When we free ourselves and our children from expectations of behavior based on constructed categories like gender, we open ourselves up to new understandings of proximity, social change, and justice – we understand that boundaries and borders set between people only grow wider and stronger when we refuse to cross them.

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of celebrating the release of The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate at HUC-JIR in New York City. As part of this celebration, Rabbi David Adelson, Dean of the New York campus, moderated a panel discussion between three women whose rabbinates represent the influence of women on the American Jewish landscape. Addressing the packed chapel, Rabbis Sally J. Priesand, Rebecca Einstein Schorr, and Leah Berkowitz spoke about their experiences confronting and breaking open barriers as female clergy members. The powerful testimony of each rabbi made clear both the tremendous strides the reform movement has taken toward gender equality since Sally Priesand’s ordination in 1972, and the groundbreaking work female rabbis continue to do in teaching us new ways of being in the world.

As a female, third-year rabbinic student at HUC-JIR, I am a direct beneficiary of this work. Listening to these women share pieces of their respective rabbinic journeys, I could not help but feel tremendous gratitude for my ability to walk along their well-trodden paths. Growing up, watching Rabbi Leah Cohen, the rabbi of my home congregation, in action every Shabbat, it was never hard for me to imagine myself on the bimah or to see myself entering the rabbinate. When I applied to HUC-JIR, I didn’t see my application as an act of daring or courage, but rather the fulfillment of my childhood dream. But there is more to this story. Women rabbis have not just opened the door for young girls to see themselves in positions of Jewish leadership; they have also fundamentally infused the role and identity of the rabbi with endless possibility. As a child, I could see myself becoming a rabbi. And now, as a queer rabbinic student, I can envision myself echoing the call of women rabbis who demanded to see themselves in tradition. In creating and opening up new models of religious leadership, women rabbis have sewn the seeds for other forms of non-traditional engagement with Jewish texts and ritual, the harvest of which is in full-bloom.

Like Moses, Miriam, Jacob, the levitical priest, Judah the Prince, and countless other figures and innovators of our tradition – we have the power to cross boundaries, re-imagine ourselves, and to demand relevance and blessing from our tradition – to queer notions of identity and meaning in this world.

Hilly Haber is a third-year rabbinical student at HUC-JIR in NYC. Originally from New York, Hilly has a Masters of Theological Study from Harvard Divinity School and has worked in temples from Boston to Boulder.  Hilly is a rabbinic intern at the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

 

 

 

 

Categories
LGBT

LGBT Pride Month: Hungry for Justice

It was quite a scene on the fourth day of Pesach in Raleigh, North Carolina. Rabbis from around the state (including several CCAR colleagues) had gathered in the State Legislative Building for a press conference denouncing H.B. 2 and calling upon the Legislature to repeal it. Following the press conference, we reassembled in the chapel for what we all assume was the first kriat hallel to be proclaimed in that space. Six rabbis each introduced a psalm with a reflection and then led an overflowing chapel in song and prayer.

I had the privilege of framing the service, and shared these words:

One of the things that makes the recitation of the Hallel come alive for me is the frequent and easy alternating between person. Like the psalms as a whole, there’s no pinning Hallel down as about either the individual or the collective. One moment we’re singing out as Israel, or even more expansively as “all who revere the Eternal One;” the next, we’re lamenting on our own, bringing forth our private pain. Psalm by psalm, and even verse by verse, the shift occurs.

What I learn from that shift is this: it’s for each of us to locate our own story within the larger story of a People, and all people. Standing on the Bicentennial Mall yesterday afternoon in that fusion coalition of black, brown and white, straight and queer, diverse in gender identity and expression, in means, in political views, I felt keenly who I was (a privileged, white, cisgender male, a Jew, a rabbi) and also with whom I stood. Standing here now, I feel my place no less keenly. Praying the Hallel today I am a small but not insignificant part of my people, of God’s people gone forth from Egypt, crossing the Jordan, marching to the Promised Land.

But I am also present with my own personal story of liberation. And my story is bound up with my son’s story. H.B. 2 seeks to use him as a wedge in a cynical political ploy for votes and power. In doing so, it makes him, and all transgender people in North Carolina, less safe. And while I’d be here with my colleagues today standing against H.B. 2 were I still the father of three daughters, as I pray this Hallel I will give thanks for the personal redemption that’s come to my family since my son learned more fully who he is, and began teaching the rest of us.

Pride Month is about celebrating newly-won rights and standing up where those rights are under attack. As a Reform Rabbi in North Carolina, and the father of a transgender son, I enter this month determined, and hungry for justice.

Rabbi Larry Bach serves Judea Reform Congregation in Durham, North Carolina.

Categories
LGBT Social Justice

LGBT Pride Month: In The Wilderness We All Count

My high school years were spent in the desert of Southern California, but to me it felt more like a wilderness, vast and empty. During the summer it was so quiet that many shops and restaurants would close from Memorial Day until Labor Day.

But my mother had a different view. She knew that each person counts, especially in a wilderness, and so she would “collect strays,” people who didn’t quite fit in, who felt like they didn’t count.

Among the “strays” was Don. Don was tall, good looking and really funny. And he was a a 30 something gay man struggling against the challenges of not having family support, His joy and humor made an impression on me, a 14 year old kid, still in the closet.

My mom regularly brought in people who were on the outside; people whose family or community didn’t or wouldn’t support them. As a high school student in the 1970’s I saw how difficult life was for, people like Don, like me The discrimination of lesbians and gays, deprived them of even the most basic rights. So many battles for things we take for granted today, were yet to be fought. To be openly gay or lesbian came with so many risks, personally and professionally, against which there were no legal protections. To be accepted for who you were, to be in a safe place was a treasured gift. For Don and the others my mother welcomed at her work and into our lives, our home was an oasis. By modeling inclusion and hospitality, especially for these young men, I learned a lesson in acceptance and the value of each individual person.

Many decades have passed I am now at the opposite end of the continent, I live in Maine. Maine too is a wilderness for many people, after all it is a state reputedly with more moose than people. Here in this beautiful, sparsely populated place there are those who know the value of every person, every marriage, and every community. And they are willing to stand up and fight for the rights of others.

The best example of this valuing was demonstrated in the work done in 2011-12 to bring marriage equality to Maine. The marriage equality campaign understood the best way to educate our neighbors on the value of equality was to treat everyone as if they mattered. This meant walking door to door and meeting face to face. The goal was to meet and to educate, to share and to listen. The message of the campaign was about the value of marriage and marriage equality. Every marriage should count; every family be valued.

Today in Maine the conversation has shifted to ensuring the rights of transgender people. However, the message is the same, we all count, we all deserve to be safe in our communities, our state, and our country. There have been successes and yet there is much work to do.

Nearly every year, the LGBT pride month coincides with the reading of the Book of Numbers/B’midbar. The Book begins not only with the Israelites wandering in the wilderness traveling toward the Promised Land but also with a census of those on the trip. The dual titling of this book of the Torah teaches us an important lesson: In the Wilderness/B’midbar — Everyone Counts. Each one of us matters as we make our way to our common future. In fact that is is the only way we can reach the “promised land”. We are still wandering, though we are closer, and by joining in with your voice, you can help take us a step closer. Until every person matters we will always be wandering in a wilderness.


Rabbi Darah R. Lerner serves Congregation Beth El in Bangor, Maine