Connecting LGBT Communities with Communities of Faith

Jennifer Chrisler, Family Equality Council’s Executive Director,
asked last week if I would like to attend an event with her at a
local Jewish temple in which she was giving the D’var Torah (a
talk on topics relating to a section of the Torah, typically the
weekly Torah portion) during Shabbat services.  Jenn was
approached by Temple Sinai of Coolidge Corner to speak as part of
the congregation’s Rainbow Weekend.  The weekend of December
2nd through 4th, 2011 marked the
6th Annual Rainbow Weekend for the congregation and this
year they decided to focus upon the issues and concerns that
lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) parents face in
raising children.

I admit that I had not attended services in years having grown up
in a household that never identified as being deeply religious. 
We celebrate many of the Jewish holidays and enjoy getting together
as a family to continue our own religious traditions.  A big
reason I had gone for many years without a desire to go to temple
was that I did not feel welcomed and embraced by the temples I
could attend in my area, particularly as someone who was grappling
with my own religious beliefs and personal identity.  Temple Sinai
was the first temple I ever attended that was so enthusiastic about
embracing and welcoming all individuals, including members of the
LGBT community.  I was told repeatedly that they are more of a
community than a congregation, which really struck a chord with

Coming to the temple to give the D’var Torah was Jenn’s first
time going to a synagogue and she expressed gratitude and
excitement to be invited to join in the congregation’s worship
and prayers.  Religion is very important to Jenn, her spouse
Cheryl, and her twin boys Tim and Tom.  As Jenn mentioned in her
speech, many of our families consider religion to be very
significant in their lives and desire to be supported and welcomed
by their religious communities.

One of the most powerful moments of Jenn’s speech was when she
told stories from a teen panel discussion which occurred at Family
Week last year, the organization’s foremost community event and
the largest gathering of LGBT families in the nation.  The teens
of LGBT-headed families were asked, “What does religion mean to
you and your family?”  One teen answered that he and his family
felt very connected with their religious identities and felt
blessed to be accepted into their local place of worship.  Another
teen hesitated to answer – she and her family for a long time had
attended a local church and had considered religion to be very
meaningful and important in their lives.  Then, at one sermon that
the family attended, the minister gave a speech claiming that
marriage should only be between a man and a woman.  He called on
the church members to advocate for this definition of marriage to
be upheld in the community and country. One of the teen’s moms
stood up in the middle of this speech and proclaimed how
insensitive and hurtful these comments were to her and her family
who had been longtime church-goers.  The family immediately left
the church and none of them have returned since that day.

Through these stories about the teens she met and her own
family’s experiences, Jenn stressed the importance of communities
of faith welcoming and being supportive of all families, including
those with parents who are LGBT.  Temple Sinai is one of those
communities of faith which is warm and welcoming to the LGBT
community.  Over this past year, the temple’s Rainbow Committee
submitted testimony to help pass the Transgender Equal Rights Bill
in Massachusetts, which protects transgender individuals from
discrimination in education, housing, employment and credit. 
After hearing from Jenn about the work that we do at Family
Equality Council, members of the temple are now committed to assist
in passing the Every Child Deserves a Family Act.  This bill would
ensure that our country does everything possible to move children
out of the foster care system and into permanent, loving homes. It
would eliminate discrimination in foster and adoption placement
policies based on the marital status, sexual orientation or gender
identity of the prospective parents.  I would like to personally
applaud Temple Sinai for setting such a wonderful example that
communities of faith can be supportive of all individuals no matter
their sexual orientation or gender identity!