Jewish Organizational Equality Index Supports Inclusive Communities

The Human Rights Campaign has been promoting their Jewish Organization Equality Index (JOEI), which will be similar in some respects to its Corporate Equality Index (CEI). Like the CEI, the JOEI will establish a baseline measurement for how Jewish organizations (including congregations) treat their LGBT employees and members of their community.

According to HRC, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews are “overwhelmingly less engaged in the Jewish community than their heterosexual counterparts, primarily due to the fact that they are unsure of where they are welcome.” Unfortunately – in large part as a result of the use of religion to discriminate and spread hate – many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people view religious institutions with some degree of suspicion. Seemingly insignificant wording or policies may inadvertently reinforce that suspicion and make LGBT employees or community members feel less at home – for example, forms that ask for “name of husband” and “name of wife.” JOEI is significant because it will provide information about the Jewish community’s policies and attitudes toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jews, thus enhancing the ability of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews to participate in their communities.

Although the Jewish community leads religious demographic groups in its support for LGBT equality (76% of Jews favor marriage equality, for example, compared to about half of all Americans), past data suggest that our organizations still have a long road to travel before our institutional policies match our attitudes. A 2008 survey of new Jewish groups found that nearly 60% had no LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination policy in place, and just over half of all New York City Jewish groups reported having LGBT staff. The JOEI, in addition to being a resource to prospective members of a congregation or employees, will serve as a resource for organizations aiming to bring their practices in line with Jewish values and beliefs.

That is why the Religious Action Center is participating in (and encouraging participation in) the equality index survey; we are specifically encouraging Reform congregations to participate in the initiative. Jewish nonprofits have until April 6 to complete the survey. Our participation in the JOEI is part of our longstanding commitment to LGBT equality, growing out of the belief that all people are created b’tzelem Elohim – in the image of the Divine – and, as such, should be treated with dignity and respect.

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Noah Baron

About Noah Baron

Noah Baron is a 2011-2012 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. He is from Princeton Junction, NJ, and a graduate of Columbia University.

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