By David R Cohen / david@atljewishtimes.com SOJOURN’s Robbie Medwed

After 14 years in Atlanta, the leading Southern organization providing education and support for sexual diversity is expanding into Birmingham.

SOJOURN is launching a citywide Welcoming Communities Project in Alabama’s largest city. While it is not the first time SOJOURN has done work outside Atlanta, it’s the first time the group has worked with multiple agencies within a single Jewish community.

A kickoff event for the project was held Feb. 23 at the Levite Jewish Community Center in Birmingham. The event included a screening of the film “Straightlaced — How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up” and a discussion afterward featuring the film’s creators.

“We were looking at what Birmingham would be most interested and receptive to doing,” SOJOURN Assistant Director Robbie Medwed said. “They came back to us with the idea of the entire community getting involved. So we adapted the Welcoming Synagogues Project into the Welcoming Communities Project. We will be going through the program as a large group and community and then splitting off to their individual agencies to make sure that they all fit together.”

In Birmingham, SOJOURN sees an opportunity to work with community leaders, educators and clergy to make sure that every member of the community feels safe and accepted for who they are. Together with Levite JCC M.O.R.E. (Membership, Outreach, Retention and Engagement), the organization plans to undertake several projects in the Birmingham Jewish community, including:

  • Creating welcoming language on websites and in marketing materials.
  • Reviewing organization membership documents for inclusive language.
  • Incorporating language that is inclusive into worship content and educational curricula.
  • Conducting at least two seminars or educational workshops that are communitywide.
  • Updating and expanding nondiscrimination policies.
  • Affirming that synagogue clergy will perform lifecycle rituals for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Jews.

“This is an exciting time for the city of Birmingham with its progressive growth and development,” said Monika Flurer, the director of JCC M.O.R.E. “We here at the Levite Jewish Community Center are honored to be able to show our support of the community by welcoming SOJOURN to Birmingham with open arms. The J is open to everyone, and this is yet another step to strengthen our claim.”

An expansion to Birmingham could be a big step forward for SOJOURN, which began as the Rainbow Center in 2001. Executive Director Rebecca Stapel-Wax said plans are in place for growth into other Southeastern cities.

“We have many connections already in New Orleans, Mobile and Memphis,” she said. “We’re already starting a project in Asheville, North Carolina, and we have some connections in Miami as well, so we have a lot of work ahead of us.”