This past weekend, hundreds of metro Atlanta Jews joined together to march as one community in the Atlanta Pride Parade, and it was a sight to see. Over 40 organizations came together to declare their openness and support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) Jews loudly and publicly. We’ve gotten used to having Atlanta’s Jewish community be one of the largest delegations participating in the Pride Parade but, for those of us who’ve been participating for many years, it’s still quite astounding. There were years where we had fewer than 20 people marching. Back then, we felt lucky if we got a minyan of people to march. So much has changed so quickly.
It may seem like an obvious move for an organization like Federation, which aims to support the entire Atlanta Jewish community (and beyond) to be actively involved in Pride, but just a few years ago it would have been unthinkable. We now realize that supporting LGBTQ people isn’t political at all. It’s pikuach nefesh — saving lives.
When I join the Jewish community to march at Pride, one of my favorite things to do is play a game I call “find the Jew in the crowd.” As we walk, I look at the thousands of faces we pass, and without fail, there are always a few folks whose faces light up as soon as they see hundreds of Jewish LGBTQ people and allies. So often they’ll start jumping up and down and waving, shouting, “I’m Jewish, too!” as we smile at each other. They never expected to see Jews supporting Pride — and certainly not so many Jews.
For too many LGBTQ people, religion has been used as a weapon intended to harm. We’ve been told we don’t belong, that we’re sinful, and far too many LGBTQ people have been sent to abusive “conversion therapy” programs under the guise of religious adherence. So, when folks see a mass of supportive and affirming Jews and Jewish organizations proudly welcoming all it gets to be pretty emotional for everyone involved.
With so many allies marching at Pride, we’re not only telling LGBTQ people that they’re welcome in our community, we’re also telling our straight friends and family that being welcoming and celebrating people of all kinds is how Jews are supposed behave, that it’s what’s expected of us. But marching at Pride is only step one.
The true test of allyship is how our Jewish organizations act all year long. Are there statements of welcome posted on websites and in their buildings? Are there accessible restrooms for every member of the community? Do we use inclusive language and not enforce gender assumptions on participants?
Doing the work of allyship is hard. It takes a real effort and it takes the support of an entire community. That’s why it’s so incredible that so many Jewish organizations unite with SOJOURN and Federation to march at Pride – because what seemed impossible just a few years ago seems commonplace to us now. So, may it be with our entire community!