Guest Column by Rebecca Stapel-Wax

5776 has been a very difficult year. Immediately after the Supreme Court’s decision to make marriage equality the law, there was a backlash with 200 legislative bills spread across the country proposing to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

Eight of those bills were right here in Georgia. Most of these bills claimed religious freedom as a reason to deny people access to services. More concerning was that just by their existence, these bills encouraged distrust, fear and hatred of others.

Rebecca Stapel-Wax, SOJOURN Executive Director

Rebecca Stapel-Wax,
SOJOURN executive director

As Jews we can relate to being scapegoats and targets. Fortunately, our Jewish community responded with love, kindness and voices.
Over the past year two dozen rabbis came to rallies, gave speeches, spoke from the pulpit, wrote emails and informed their congregants about how to Jewishly stand up for equality. In addition, 40 organizations will partner with SOJOURN on Oct. 8 and 9 at Atlanta Pride, and 200 to 300 people will march down Peachtree Street.

It is an incredibly humbling sight to see this hugely diverse group of Jewish babies through bubbes modeling for Atlanta that people of faith not only accept LGBT people, but also encourage them to be full members of their families and organizations.

At Pride, the first LGBT Guide to Jewish Atlanta will debut. Each of our partners is listed with the programs and services they provide and their invitation to people who are LGBT to join them. With rapidly changing social and legal developments, SOJOURN has also included a glossary of terms to be a resource throughout the year.

Since our inception in 2013, SOJOURN has demonstrated that with the almost 10,000 people who have attended our workshops, the building of awareness, exposure to differences and education make an impact and cause significant change.

Almost all of us know (and love) someone who is gay, but the same isn’t true about someone who is transgender. With the state of the world, we need to be unified. We need to really grasp the concept that our differences aren’t to be feared. We produced a T-shirt that says, “Love your neighbor (even if they are not) like yourself.”

We must be intentional to embrace our neighbors, co-workers, parents of our kids’ friends and sometimes even our own family. Join us for a future workshop or invite us to customize a learning opportunity for your group to expand your knowledge and experience the shoes of another.

After the United States’ largest massacre in Orlando, Atlanta hosted a vigil of thousands. It was also the same night as SOJOURN’s Parent Discussion Group. These 10 families chose to meet as an intimate group instead of attending the larger gathering.

Recently one of those parents wrote: “I don’t think I would have my child right now if it weren’t for you. There is no exaggeration the resources you provided and you taking the time, it saved my child. I know the suicide rate of the LGBTQ community is high. I also know had we not had the chain of events that started with you guys we would be part of that statistic.”

Tell your friends and colleagues there is support, and they are not alone. Alienation is a threat to our safety and well-being, so having a sense of normalcy and belonging is the remedy.

We at SOJOURN are so grateful for how persistent and vocal our community has been. We recognize that it is essential to celebrate our successes. So this year we honor two clergy who have responded to the injustices the LGBT community has faced.

On Feb. 25 we will honor Rabbi Pamela Gottfried and Rabbi Michael Bernstein with the Michael Jay Kinsler Rainmaker Award at our annual fundraiser, Purim off Ponce. Over the past three years they have been continuous sources of support to the LGBT community, and they embody the role of the ally.

We rely on each other to achieve a genuinely happy, healthy and safe new year. In 5777 I encourage us to be intentional about our compassion, our patience and our appreciation for those we love and those we don’t know yet. May we discover that in extending ourselves, even when it is uncomfortable, we reach a more enlightened future.

Rebecca Stapel-Wax is the executive director of SOJOURN: Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender & Sexual Diversity.