Inclusion, Not Exclusion

By A.J. Llewellyn

This week has been a huge victory for the GLBTQ community with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals deeming California’s hated and hateful Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional.

The battle still rages, however. We have a very long way to go and nowhere is this felt more keenly than on the frontlines, right here in LA where so many gay couples were allowed to marry, as Ellen deGeneres recently joked, “for ten minutes.”

Last night, I attended another wonderful, memorable evening service at Beth Chayim Chadashim. I learned that it means “House of New Life” and considering this synagogue was the first GLBTQ one to ever open, it felt historic and right to be here. The men and women who sat in this sanctuary with me spearheaded the campaign to fight against Proposition 8 when it reared its ugly head on the ballot four years ago.

The synagogue, founded in 1972, has been the champion of so many causes. Last night, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union of Reform Judaism, traveled from New York to speak in the midst of some of the most powerful songs I have ever heard. Performed by my secret crush, Cantor Juval Porat and guest Cantor Lance Tapper, I glimpsed the traditional Jewish music’s baton-passing to the reform movement.

Some of the songs were in Aramaic… Tradition, observance, spiritual passion all run deeply in the hearts of so many men and women who fight daily against injustice. A group of people others would prefer to disenfranchise.

I sat agog as Rabbi Jacobs proclaimed BCC as one of the most successful synagogues in the country at a time when so many are suffering.

“BCC has always promoted inclusion, not exclusion. You are becoming the home of so many people.” When I glanced down at the program in my hands and saw all the upcoming events, including a Trans and Gender Queer Text Study, I knew he was right.

Rabbi Jacobs, like so many speakers I have heard thanks to my evenings at BCC, is a powerful speaker. I was spellbound when he described how some reform movement members hated the idea of a GLBT synagogue. He has always endorsed it and said he knew that one day they would understand.

When he talked of the early days of the AIDS epidemic, tears filled my eyes as he related how many ‘countless families’ called him begging him to perform funeral rites on their deceased or dying loved ones.

“The conversation would always start with ‘I’m not one of your congregants but all the other Rabbis seem to be busy…’ ”

Rabbi Jacobs looked stricken as he related the story of a mother who called, begging him not to mention her son’s death to AIDS in his funeral service. “Please, please, don’t mention him identifying as gay,” he said, repeating her traumatized words. “The school where I work as a nurse have no idea he was gay…”

Around me, many people nodded or shook their heads. Many of them remember what it was like back then, when funeral homes refused to bury AIDS patients and hospital workers wore Haz Mat suits to treat their loved ones.

“Can you imagine how she felt?” he asked. He nodded as he looked around the packed room. “Yes, I know you do.”

As the battle for marriage equality for all finds unlikely allies and tremendous support across the country, Rabbi Jacobs said what was on many people’s minds:

How great it will be when we don’t have to label unions as gay or straight.

It is an enlightened thought. As he talked about the reform movement’s own troubles with people sometimes dismissing it as ‘Judaism lite’ I was thinking about a radio report I’d heard earlier in the day with a DJ ridiculing Robin Tyler and Diane Olson, the first lesbian couple to be married in Los Angeles, for getting divorced.

To me, it was tragic. To Bill Handel, it was a sign that all GLBT people are flaky or weird…and in his estimation, dangerous.

Sure, a few of the couples who were married in California in that tiny window of opportunity have since split. So what?

How many straight people have been married and divorced since then?

A hell of a lot more.

18,000 GLBT couples married before Proposition 8 passed the ballot. I haven’t seen the sky falling or whole towns burning as a result…have you?

In a public statement, Robin Tyler said that even the best marriages come to an end. The right to marry doesn’t guarantee gay couples would live happily ever after.

Isn’t that true of every marriage?

Inclusion, not exclusion. That’s all we are asking for.

Aloha oe,


One Response to “Inclusion, Not Exclusion”

  1. What a beautiful place darling.. thank you for sharing this…


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