The colorful arrival of Pride Month each June is generally a celebratory way to mark the progress and advancement of the LGBTQ+ community. But this year’s Pride Month has arrived as LGBTQ+ Americans are grappling with ever-growing threats to their safety, wellbeing and lives, as the White House and its administration work every day to implement policies that put them at risk under the guise of promoting ‘religious freedom.’ As the rainbow flag waves in the streets, the Trump administration is using faith to advance a wide range of anti-gay, anti-trans policies, such as efforts to allow and even protect discrimination against LGBTQ+ Americans in employment and health care, ban transgender people from the military and allow adoption agencies to reject same-sex couples.
As a faith leader and the first woman Chief Executive of the rabbinical leadership organization of Reform Judaism, I am compelled to speak out because those seeking to harm LGBTQ+ Americans in the name of religion do not represent me or my fellow Reform rabbis. Allowing or encouraging discrimination toward individuals because of who they love or how they identify isn’t just harmful, it’s fundamentally immoral. This is as personal an issue for me as it an issue of faith as I have a queer daughter. No less than complete equality is acceptable for my daughter, or for any other human being.
Raising the faith flag to promote inequity, fear, and mistrust is moving this country on a dangerous path, one that not only causes harm but also endangers life. Studies report that one in four LGBTQ+ youth consider suicide – a rate significantly higher than that of the larger youth population. It is also well documented that since the legalization of gay marriage, those rates have gone measurably down, with researchers attributing that change to the positive impact of greater acceptance and visibility. So if we look at a possible future in which Obergefell v Hodges, United States v Windsor and other landmark cases for LGBTQ+ rights may be overturned, as well as many other possible steps backward in this area, lives will be put at risk. And a country which denies equal rights to its LGBTQ+ citizens – the right to marry, the right to inherit, the right to adopt, the right for workplace protections – is a country in which some people are more equal than others, and in which it becomes easier to discriminate and perpetrate violence against LGBTQ+ people, further endangering lives.
As Jews, we believe that all people, no matter their race, gender or creed, are created in the Divine image. That means that all people deserve equality, dignity and respect, and none should be singled out, marginalized or targeted for discrimination based on who they are. Far from promoting religious freedom or core faith values, anti-LGBTQ+ policies contradict these deeply held values, denying the fundamental humanity of millions of people and creating a wide swath of second-class citizens.
I’m proud that the Reform Movement has long been a leader on LGBTQ+ equality. The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) has been a leader in approving resolutions affirming the human and constitutional rights of LGBTQ+ Americans beginning in the 1970s, becoming one of the first organizations to formally endorse the ordination of LGBTQ+ clergy in 1990 and allowing rabbis to officiate at same-sex weddings in 2000.
Faith leaders must not be silent in the midst of efforts to deny the humanity of LGBTQ+ people. We cannot allow religion to be cynically weaponized in order to enable discrimination and hatred against these communities to flourish. We must condemn and vigorously oppose policies that target Americans based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. We must elevate the voices of the LGBTQ+ members and allies within our own communities. And we must go further than that, supporting legislation like the Equality Act that will enshrine protections for LGBTQ+ Americans into federal law.
Fifty years after the Stonewall uprising and the beginning of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement, and nearly four years after the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court ruling made same-sex marriage the law of the land, diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity are becoming increasingly accepted and celebrated in our society. But our nation still has a long way to go to achieve true equality and justice for LGBTQ+ Americans. Beyond the harmful policies of the Trump administration, a recent spate of murders of transgender women of color reminds us that violence against these communities remains at a frighteningly high level. And in many states, people can still be fired from their jobs, denied health care or housing simply for being gay or transgender. Lives are at stake, and we must follow the core values of our faith by speaking out against measures that would strip people of their basic human dignity, livelihoods, and rights.
For me and my fellow Reform rabbis, advancing the cause of equality for LGBTQ+ Americans goes far beyond politics. How we treat these members of our communities and our families is a basic question of morality and justice. I am proud that the liturgical offerings we’ve created for our rabbis allow them the freedom to officiate at beautiful same-sex and queer weddings, to name the children of LGBTQ+ parents, to develop rituals for gender transition, and in so many other ways to recognize the beautiful humanity and dignity of our diverse community.
Denying freedom to others by implementing harmful government policies in the name of religion is not ‘religious freedom’; it’s bigotry, plain and simple. Taking away basic human rights cannot possibly contribute to freedom, rather it represents the denial of liberty and human rights. We must continue to work together toward a world that recognizes the common humanity of all people, and where all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity become relics of the past.