Three years ago, when Melissa Green started working at Kulanu Toronto – the city’s largest Jewish LGBTQ social group – she found that there was broad support throughout the mainstream Jewish community for its LGBTQ members.
In the years since, she’s noticed that the broader community has become more actively engaged.
“They’ve became a lot more vocal about LGBT rights,” she said. “It wasn’t very much overwhelmingly talked about, but now I’m seeing a lot more, not just gay Jews, but straight allies coming forth.”
Kulanu and a handful of other Jewish organizations, including Jewish Family and Child Services (JF&CS) and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), will take to the streets for the Toronto Pride Parade on Sunday, June 24. Kulanu will also march in the Trans March and Dyke March on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
Green, who is the social media and outreach co-ordinator for Kulanu, said that it’s important for the organization to promote itself within the Jewish community.
“Just like in any community, there’s people who may not be as educated about the LGBT community, or don’t know as much, or never really grew up with gay people,” she said. “So what we’re trying to do is kind of create a normalcy for LGBT Jews within the Jewish community … and allow people to become more educated and learn more about our community.”
Part of that goal includes reaching out to those LGBTQ Jews who are in need of support. For example, “There are a lot of religious Jews out there that do feel very isolated within their own community,” she said.
Jewish Family & Child (JF&CS) is also working on providing more services for LGBTQ people. Just under two years ago, it created a new position for an LGBTQ co-ordinator, which is currently filled by Michael Waxman. Some of his duties include educating people inside and outside of the organization about LGBTQ issues and providing counselling for LGBTQ individuals.
He said that it’s important for Jewish organizations to provide these services.
“There are LGBTQ people in the community who want to be serviced by a Jewish organization. There are unique cultural differences in any culture when somebody identifies that way, and so there are unique differences for Jewish people as well, and so it helps working with people who understand,” said Waxman.
Waxman said that creating a position for an LGBTQ co-ordinator was something that JF&CS wanted to do for some time, but it was only two years ago that it was able to find the funding. As it is, he only works two days a week – one day funded by the organization and the other by a private donor. Ideally, JF&CS would like to provide LGBTQ services five days a week, but doesn’t have the money at the moment.
Still, the organization is now able to provide more services to LGBTQ clients than in years past.
“Come June, some emails would go out, we’d recruit a group of 10 to 20 people to march (in the Pride parade), and that was all you heard about it for the rest of the year. Obviously, there were some LGBTQ clients, but they were just using services like any other client of the agency,” said Hannah Wasserman, director of development and communications at JF&CS.
Sheri Krell, the executive director of Kulanu, said that lack of funding – and what it says about the attitudes within the broader Jewish community – is an issue for the group.
“We don’t directly receive any funding from UJA, so it’s challenging to not receive any funding from the Jewish community,” she said. “It’s hard to feel fully included when you’re not feeling like you’re receiving any financial sponsorship from UJA.”
Krell did point out that, this year, UJA helped sponsor one of Kulanu’s events for the first time, the Pride Shabbat Dinner, which was held on June 8.
CIJA also helped organize that dinner. It has been involved in several LGBTQ initiatives, including supporting the passage of Bill C-16 which increased protection for transgender Canadians from hate, and aiding gay Chechens fleeing persecution. CIJA, with Kulanu, has planned Holocaust Education Week programming about the persecution of the LGBTQ community.
Kulanu, JF&CS and CIJA invite all members of the Jewish community to come and march with them on June 24.