In just a few days I will immerse myself with some of the most visionary, thoughtful and politically savvy LGBTQ clergy in the country. We will focus our collective passion, expertise and constituency base on supporting the Black Lives Matter movement in an intentional and substantive way. It is about time.
It shouldn't take much to connect the dots of how racism, sexism, poverty and violence connect our diverse communities.
How can we fail to see the connection between the homicide of Trayvon Martin, the mass murder of worshippers in a Black church in Charleston, the Ferguson killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager by a police officer, and the murder of now twenty trans women of color, not to mention the plight of homeless LGBTQ youth targeted by the police?
How can we not pray with our feet in support of the most pressing civil rights movement of our day, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught us to do so many decades ago?
And yet the bridges that should be connecting us are still under construction.
For decades, LGBTQ leaders have spoken about intersectionality - the importance of not being a one issue movement, only concerned with passing employment non-discrimination protections or securing the freedom to marry for same gender couples or ensuring immigration rights for LGBTQ people.
For years we have talked the talk. And at times organizations focus resources on racism, poverty, police brutality, reproductive rights, etc. But in my view there hasn't been nearly enough strategic, long term and cross-institutional commitment to that ideal.
I had the idea to organize this conference to address that gap for LGBTQ faith leaders, a population that has been incredibly successful in so many realms: pastoring to and healing the religiously inflicted wounds of our congregants; turning public opinion to support freedom to marry initiatives; supporting youth and families in celebrating sexual orientation and gender identity diversity as sacred and special. Why not turn the prophetic and politically sophisticated talents of this group towards an issue that both transcends and includes LGBTQ lives?
In February of 2014 I was blessed to attend a convening entitled "Queering Islam" organized by Professor Dr. Shaykh Ibrahim Farajaje, the Provost at Starr King School for the Ministry. Invited to participate as a Jewish ally and as the Executive Director of a Jewish LGBTQ organization, I was humbled and honored to be at the event. It was there that I had this inspiration. Surrounded by deep theologians, every one of whom had a radical politic, I realized that the time had come to call this gathering together.
At first I was open to the group addressing any number of issues and proposed that we figure out the topic a few months before the conference. Black Lives Matter was one of many options on the table along with Climate Change, gun control and hunger. But as the months wore on as we reeled in the aftermath of Ferguson and Charleston and murders of transgender woman of color, the topic became obvious. We had to step up and add our voices to the Black Lives Matter movement. I was thrilled to be working at Nehirim, an organization whose Board saw the wisdom in this idea, who gave me the go-ahead to seek foundation funding (thank you Arcus Foundation) and organize this event.
In mere days dozens of clergy will gather from Portland, OR, San Francisco, Washington DC, Seattle, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Texas, New Hampshire and other locales to go beyond learning and strategize on how we can spend the coming year and beyond in support of this movement. Congregational, organizational and seminary leaders will evaluate how to address the issues of police violence, hunger, poverty, homicide, vulnerability and hate crimes from the pulpit to the public square to the state house to the school house. Black clergy and allies, together we will speak truth to power, inviting our congregants, students and colleagues to join us.
"Never again" is a call that the Jewish community has uttered for decades regarding the devastation of the European genocide visited upon us as well as the Roma, the disabled, the then called "homosexuals" and others.
Only when all of us take up this charge can we ensure that never again will a Black Church be burned, will a police officer gun down an unarmed Black person, will a Black transgender woman be murdered, will a Black girl be raped, will the "War on Drugs" be used to systematically and grotesquely disproportionately incarcerate Black people. Never again.