1/30/13 by Steve Charing- Over the past few months a group called JQ Baltimore has made significant progress in knocking down some barriers that had existed between those of the Jewish faith and the LGBTQ community.
Orthodox Judaism has historically struggled with acceptance and inclusion of LGBT Jews. But inroads are gradually being made, and JQ Baltimore, which was founded last June, has clearly been a factor.
There is a concern that teens acknowledging their sexuality or gender identity would relinquish their identification with Judaism. Neely Snyder, 34, who has worked with teenagers for the past 15 years and currently serves as director of teen engagement at the Macks Center for Jewish Education, has seen many teens abandon their Jewish identities while struggling with their sexuality. She has been involved with JQ Baltimore since its inception.
“Most teens feel it’s easier to disengage from Judaism if they feel excluded,” Snyder told Baltimore OUTloud. “I’ve seen many students, as well as friends, struggle with the relationship between their sexual identities and their Jewish identities. Between what I’ve experienced professionally and personally as an ally, I’ve been inspired to make change in the local community.” Snyder is enthusiastic regarding how much JQ Baltimore has accomplished so quickly and is elated by the support the group has received from members of all denominations.JQ Baltimore’s mission statement as presented on their Facebook page (Facebook.com/jqbaltimore) indicates, “Baltimore will be a welcoming and inclusive model Jewish Community for LGBTQ individuals, families, and allies.” The mission consists of three components: Support, education, and advocacy. The statement concludes, “In accomplishing this mission, Baltimore area LGBTQ Jewish individuals and their families will have rich and meaningful opportunities to fully participate in Jewish living and learning.”
The education part of the mission is critical. “JQ Baltimore strives to educate Baltimore’s Jewish community and the community as a whole about LGBTQ issues, which is extremely important because there has been a silence around these issues for many years,” says Chase Hiller, 22, a recent Brandeis University graduate and a member of the group.
Hiller sees the significance of this outreach effort. “The formation and activities of JQ Baltimore are very important to me personally, both as a gay person and as someone who is culturally Jewish, because the aim of the group is to provide programming and resources for LGBTQ people, their allies, their friends, and their families in Baltimore’s Jewish community.”
JQ Baltimore recently helped promote the screening of the film, Mom and Dad, I Have Something to Tell You at Beth Tfiloh, a Modern Orthodox community school and synagogue located in Pikesville. The documentary by Israeli film director Yair Qedar describes the process Israeli parents go through when their children come out. Approximately 200 attended the screening.
Prior to the establishment of JQ Baltimore, there have been other efforts to reach out to LGBT Jews. There are several local synagogues with an active LGBT membership and inclusive culture. One such synagogue is the Bolton Street Synagogue, which is located on West Cold Spring Lane in Baltimore. According to Rabbi John Franken, that synagogue has a storied history of welcoming and embracing interfaith couples, people of color as well as LGBT Jews.
“We celebrate and welcome the arrival of JQ Baltimore to the Jewish LGBT scene,” the rabbi says. “I expect that JQ Baltimore will become the central address for LGBT Jews in the region and will be the most effective advocate for total inclusion within the broad Jewish community. I’m delighted to be a partner, member, and supporter of JQ Baltimore.”
Monthly meetings with programs and discussions take place at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills Jewish Community Center and are facilitated by Melissa Berman, the JCC’s assistant director of arts and culture.
“It is because of JQ Baltimore and its members that the JCC has been able to offer new services to the Jewish LGBTQ community and their families,” says Gail Zuskin, a vice president of the Owings Mills JCC. “Needs and services not currently offered to the Jewish community of Baltimore were identified and the JCC is thrilled to be able to fill some major gaps.”
The future of the group looks very promising. “JQ Baltimore has made tremendous progress in the past few months working to create opportunities for LGBTQ outreach and support in Baltimore’s Jewish community,” Chase Hiller states. “I am very excited for what lies ahead as we continue to make positive changes in the community.”
- They are having an event "Purim Unmasked"- for info and tickets click on the link http://www.jewishpinkelephant.com/2013/02/invite-purim-unmasked-jq-baltimore-is.html