Gay Pride: Not Always a Cinch
I thought that writing about gay pride month would be a cinch.
I had come out to my parents in 1963, merely four years before Herb and I met, and only six years before Stonewall. I remember standing in our apartment in 1969 watching the events of Stonewall unfold on our little black-and-white television—mesmerized. My life with Herb, now my husband, has spanned almost the entire history of the Pride Movement.
He was my first Jewish beau. We spent that first summer courting, learning about each other in a most natural way, each the son of an attorney active in his respective synagogue with lengthy service as congregational secretary. How similar were our middle class Jewish backgrounds.
Our journey since then has included numerous legal documents, health care proxies and powers of attorney, years of advocacy for public recognition, interviews, congregational visits, talks before synagogues and public interest groups, Pride Marches, a ketubah in 1988, a Vermont civil union in 2000, a Canadian civil marriage in 2008 and a New York marriage on January 1, 2012.
Remarkably for January 1st, the sun shone brightly through the Temple’s beautiful stained glass windows. Our chuppah, on loan from a family member, for a moment before family and friends, sheltered us in God’s presence. It was a most conventional non-conventional Jewish wedding. We had friends, flowers, music, a festive wedding brunch, a champagne toast, a photographer, similar grey pinstriped suits, a judge and a rabbi. Indeed, Reform Judaism has accepted us and others like us, as fully participating members—as Jews—without reservations or restrictions.
Of course, writing about gay pride would be a cinch.
I began by looking for a metaphor to sum up more than four decades of gay pride—the Movement’s and our own, mine and Herb’s. I turned to Torah and to Genesis and the rainbow, which has become the international symbol of gay pride. As an artist, I know much about color theory, the bending of light and the prism that makes a rainbow. God’s covenant with us and the earth does not alone make it the metaphor I was seeking.
So I turned for inspiration to my Chumash, to the parashot of Pride Month—the Book of Numbers. Good stuff here for Pride Month—B’midbar—and the counting. Despite my sexual orientation, I have always wanted simply to be counted in; to be a part of K’lal Yisrael. B’midbar places me right in the middle of our ancestors who left Mitzrayim and began the trek across the desert. My pedigree counted. Even my contrariness counted.
We Jews are a contentious people; throughout our wanderings, we complained, we rebelled, we argued—even with God. Stonewall, while not limited to us as Jews, seems to be, at first glance, the metaphor for which I had been searching. All that most of us in the GLBT community have asked for, after a history of being marginalized, is to be counted in.
But even Stonewall was not the right metaphor. In my search, I finally found my metaphor: We—GLBT Jews—have the chutzpah to be contentious, to stand up, to argue—even with God. The simple version of the answer from God was, “of course you count. You are b’tzelem Elohim. You don’t have to fight with Me or perhaps with all those who would like to think that they are speaking for Me. But from Me, learn to take yes for an answer, yes, you do count.”
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In June, we hosted Gay Pride Shabbat at Temple Beth-El of Great Neck, complete with rainbow-decorated cake at the Oneg Shabbat. Notwithstanding a personal invitation from Governor Cuomo’s office to march with the governor at this year’s Gay Pride March in New York City in celebration of last year’s monumental same-sex marriage vote, this was the first Pride March in more than 20 years in which Herb and I did not physically participate. The weather was to be very HOT, and we have grown OLD. Having led the Reform Jewish contingent for almost two decades, we missed the fun. More than the fun, however, we missed participating in the sense of history that takes over at these annual events. Our hearts, however, were there on Fifth Avenue with all the other joyful celebrants.
I am still contentious, still arguing with God and even more with those who would deny me basic civil rights shared by many other Americans, those who, fortunately, are what current surveys indicate to be a minority that is growing ever smaller. In the name of their “religious” or personal beliefs, these Americans express a need to denigrate and deny us—thus, expressing their own insecurities by trying to make us insecure—to make each of us less of an American, less of a person.
Our trek across the desert of life has not yet led us to the Promised Land. But, we trek any way. This trek is as much for us, even at our ages, as it is for those who will come after us.
But the work of establishing rights for our family and other families like ours is not over. A few weeks ago, cold water dashed our joy! North Carolina passed scurrilous legislation outlawing in that state any semblance of marriage for people like us.
Oh my word! My parents’ oldest grandson, named after my Dad, and his fiancé are to be married in North Carolina next March—a day of joy to which we have looked forward since his birth 40 years ago. He has known us only as Uncle John and Uncle Herb. We drove to North Carolina for his bar mitzvah, and there is no way that I want to miss this long awaited simcha. It became clear to us that the mere act of going to North Carolina to dance at this young man’s Jewish wedding offered us dangers that we have not known for years. North Carolina will not recognize our rights as an oft-married couple. Heaven forbid that one of us has to go to a hospital while we’re there.
Imagine the consequences to you, the reader, if this legislation outlawed you simply because you are Jewish or because you reside in New York where same-sex marriages are recognized.
So, thank you, North Carolina, our Pride at this time of Pride has been diminished. My very Jewishness has been called into question. I am bereft.
Have hope, however. The journey our ancestors began when they left Egypt and wandered for 40 years has brought us to this place. Our journey, mine and Herb’s, began more than 40 years ago. Have hope. We do, and together we will find the Promised Land.
Ten of the spies sent to Canaan came back terrified with tales of giants who made our ancestors seem like grasshoppers. But Joshua and Caleb returned to the tribes with possibilities.
Like Joshua and Caleb, we too can see the giants of North Carolina who would smash us like grasshoppers. But we can also see a land of milk and honey filled with hope and possibilities—the fruits of our labors to sustain us. We may not complete the task but we are not excused from trying to complete it.
John E. Hirsch PhD is a longtime active member of the URJ, having grown up in Temple Beth Israel in Macon, GA, and now as a member of Temple Beth El in Great Neck, NY. Dr. Hirsch served on the URJ Board and as co-chair of the Gay and Lesbian Taskforce (later a part of the URJ’S Department of Jewish Family Concerns) of the Union. He co-edited the first Kulanu: A Handbook for UAHC Congregations.