Our Decades-Long Fight for LGBT Equality
October is LGBT History month, dedicated to celebrating the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals and the LGBT equal rights movement. Although the LGBT equality movement’s most significant victories have occurred in the past decade and a half (sodomy laws that criminalized same-sex sexual conduct were only declared unconstitutional in 2003!), the organized Reform Jewish Movement has a long and rich history of fighting for LGBT Equality. In fact, Reform Jews were advocating for LGBT equality long before it became a mainstream equality movement.
Women of Reform Judaism was the first Reform Jewish institution to take a stand for the decriminalization of homosexuality in a 1965 resolution. By the end of 1977, both the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis passed resolutions affirming the right of lesbian and gay individuals to equal protection under the law and calling for the prohibition of discrimination against gay and lesbian individuals. Since then, the URJ and CCAR have passed over a dozen resolutions relating to the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals, from opposition to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell to supporting marriage equality. In addition, the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism and Women of Reform Judaism passed resolutions in 2003 supporting the inclusion and acceptance of the transgender and bisexual individuals, in addition to lesbian and gay individuals. The evolving language of the Reform Movement’s resolutions on this topic over time represents the evolving understanding of what it means to be LGBT. Although the language of earlier resolutions may not reflect the current understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity, these resolutions were groundbreaking for their time and the value of full equality for LGBT individuals continues to inform the Reform Movement today.
The Reform Jewish community’s focus on LGBT rights extends beyond just the legal field. Reform instiitutions have published several resources and publications on LGBT inclusion in congregations, including "Kulanu: All of Us: A Program for Congregations Implementing Gay and Lesbian Inclusion" and "LGBT Equality Resources for Reform Congregations." In addition, following the coverage of LGBT suicides in 2011, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism released an "It Gets Better" video.
Although much progress has been in the last few years for LGBT equality, more still needs to be done. For example, in 29 states, it is legal to fire, refuse to hire, demote, or fail to promote an employee based on sexual orientation; in 33 states, it is legal to do so based on gender identity. Take action to end workplace discrimination against LGBT individuals!
As the new Jewish year begins, we will continue fighting for the right of LGBT individuals to be treated equally under the law, in Jewish communities, and within society.