Study finds Jewish leaders open to LGBT community

A recent study found that a majority of Jewish leaders are open to welcoming LGBT people into their congregations.

Jewish Mosaic, which seeks to foster the inclusion of LGBT individuals in Jewish congregations, and the Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, employed both an electronic survey and a series of interviews with rabbis from across the nation over the past few months to evaluate where the Jewish community stands on LGBT inclusion.

The survey found that about 73 percent of rabbis felt that they did a “good or excellent job” of welcoming LGBT individuals to their congregations, although the survey analysts noted that there could be a discrepancy between the rabbis’ and the LGBT community’s notions.

Both Jewish and Christian individuals gathered at the Jewish Community Center in New York City Feb. 22-23 and again in Los Angeles March 1-2 to discuss the data and share ideas on how to expand LGBT inclusion.

Gregg Drinkwater, executive director of Jewish Mosaic, said both his organization and the Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation are spearheading the Welcoming Synagogues Project, which would provide formalized standards by which synagogues can develop their LGBT-inclusive policies, similar to such efforts employed in some Christian communities, and the study provided the baseline data for the project.

“In quite a number of more liberal Christian denominations there are official welcoming congregation movements. For example, the United Church of Christ has a Coalition for LGBT Concerns, which is an organization that has staff dedicated to helping UCC-affiliated congregations go through a process to determine what they can do to become more open and affirming of GLBT people,” Drinkwater said. “There are staff who can help, various resources, a checklist of things you can do and a whole process where you get a certificate you can hang in your church and you can be listed on the coalition’s Web site. The Jewish world has never done this. There are certainly a lot of people who are interested in GLBT inclusion in the Jewish world and a lot of work that happens toward that, but it’s very ad hoc and done locally and regionally; there’s been no national infrastructure to bring coherence to that process in the Jewish world.”

The survey was sent to more than 3,000 congregations in the United States and Canada, and nearly 1,000 responded, which Drinkwater noted comprises nearly 25 percent of all Jewish congregations across North America.

Although the vast majority of rabbis thought their congregations were welcoming to LGBT people, Drinkwater said only 33 percent actually employed LGBT-specific programming.

“We think that might be an overestimate on the part of synagogue leaders. Most rabbis and most synagogue leaders really do think they’re doing a good job and they mean well; they do intend to do a good job but tend to not know how to, or to not know how to do it in a meaningful way that’s going to resonate with GLBT people,” he said.

About 72 percent of rabbis responded that rabbinical seminaries should offer more education in regard to transgender Jewish individuals, and 78 percent thought more education about gay and lesbian Jews should be provided.

Drinkwater noted that responses to the study and support for the LGBT community varied among the four major Jewish movements, with the more liberal Reconstructionist and Reform congregations responding at a higher rate and expressing more support for LGBT issues than the more traditional Orthodox and Conservative communities.

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].