Part of my job at the Jewish Federation of Greater Nashville is to coordinate the Jewish community’s efforts at Pride festivals in Nashville and Middle Tennessee. In the coming year, my goal is to expand those efforts to focus on year-round activities and initiatives beyond Pride to support LGBTQ+ people in Nashville.
In the aftermath of Pride 2023 and despite whatever the national narrative may be about the state of LGBTQ+ rights in the United States, I would like to share more thoroughly what Jewish Nashville's efforts towards LGBTQ+ inclusion entail. It has little to do with familiar culture war tropes around drag queens and much more to do with our community's fundamental values and priorities.
When I think of our Pride efforts as they relate to Judaism and why it is important for the Jewish community to be involved in the work of LGBTQ+ inclusion, I see the answer as a fourfold one:
· To show the LGBTQ+ members of our Jewish community that we support them and that our community is affirming of them (I am gay myself but using third person here since the "we" here refers to the Nashville Jewish community).
· To show all our LGBTQ+ neighbors in Nashville and Middle Tennessee that we support them and that our community is affirming of them.
· To create an opportunity for our LGBTQ+ Jewish community members to celebrate their joint identities within the LGBTQ+ and Jewish communities.
· To create an opportunity for the LGBTQ+ allies in the Jewish community an opportunity to live and promote their values in a Jewish way with other like-minded members of the Jewish community.
To these ends, Michal Eskenazi Becker, Federation Director of Planning, and I have been conducting interviews with a diverse cohort of LGBTQ+ members of the Jewish community to find out more about what makes people feel at home in a community, Jewish or otherwise. Michal is currently working on a statistical analysis that we will use to develop a report of what our community is doing well in this area and what we can improve.
We at the Jewish Federation of Greater Nashville will also be using this data and our relationships to build a working group of LGBTQ+ and allied lay leaders that will develop more programming and initiatives. This group will work to broadcast our LGBTQ+ affirming stature to newcomers and people outside our community while continuing to support and deepen that stance inside our community.
All of this is building on a strong foundation of work by people and institutions in our Jewish community who have been focused on this for a long time now.
Pam Kelner and the whole team at Jewish Family Service have been offering adoption services for LGBTQ couples since 2003, the first, and at the time, only adoption agency in the state to do so. Pam has also been doing exceptional work on the Nashville Pride board and now on the board of Inclusion Tennessee and was awarded Nashville Pride's Ally of the Year award in 2022. One of my favorite things about tabling for Jewish Nashville at Nashville Pride is to have LGBTQ+ couples come up to us with their kids and say, “We did our home study with you,” or, “We just became parents for the first time because of you,” which really says everything about the difference they are making in people's lives. To me, nothing says “faith and family values'' more than Pam and the whole team at JFS who work diligently to find loving homes for children and build genuine, deeply connected families.
The Temple has been tabling at Pride for longer than Jewish Nashville has and continues to wear its LGBTQ+ affirming nature on its institutional sleeve. They have also been doing all sorts of activities to connect LGBTQ+ Jews to the Jewish community through fun activities and outings like brunches and trips on the Drag Bus. Of course, they are not the only synagogue who is welcoming and affirming of LGBTQ+ people and families, but from the clergy to the staff to the lay leaders to the members of the community, The Temple has been and continues to be a leader in institutional LGBTQ+ inclusion in our community.
In addition, there are so many individuals in our Nashville Jewish community who have been doing this work on an individual and communal level for decades, participating in Pride marches dating back to the 1970s, supporting gay people suffering from the AIDS crisis, and using their voices in support of LGBTQ+ people, even when it was not a popular position. I know for a fact that if I even try to start listing people that I will get letters about names that I missed, but you know who you are and you know what you did and are continuing to do. It is deeply appreciated beyond what can be expressed into words.
I am sure there may be some readers who feel disgruntled or confused by how much attention LGBTQ+ issues get when there are so many other issues of concern going on in our Jewish community. I can certainly understand that. What I hope will be clear and will continue to become clear from our efforts is that lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender people, and people of all genders and sexual orientations just want the same thing as everybody else: the freedom to live authentic, meaningful lives with dignity and to feel like we fully belong in our communities, in our families, and in our country.
I am grateful to the Jewish Federation of Greater Nashville and to all the Jewish organizations in our ecosystem who partner with us in this effort. It is not a given that a Jewish community would commit itself so thoroughly to LGBTQ+ inclusion efforts and it is deeply heartening to see that, no matter what our political leadership may say, the Jewish community of Nashville and Middle Tennessee will continue to live its values and be the warm, welcoming, and inclusive community that it is.
If anyone else is interested in supporting this effort or getting more involved in LGBTQ+ inclusion work in the Nashville Jewish community, you can reach me at email@example.com