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 me.
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!
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