The Jewish Daily Forward recently published its Forward 50, a list of 50 Jewish leaders who have made an impact on American Jewish life in the past year. Four of this year’s leaders are either members of the LGBT community or allies who have worked to promote honest and realistic representations of LGBT people and advocated for equality. Although the list’s authors acknowledge that women lack representation on the Forward 50 list, two of the four LGBT advocates are women in strong leadership positions.
Sharon Kleinbaum has been a rabbi at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), New York’s LGBT synagogue, for nearly 20 years. In that time, she’s been acknowledged as one of the most influential rabbis and religious leaders in the United States for her work on behalf of LGBT equality. Most recently, Rabbi Kleinbaum was a vocal supporter of marriage equality in New York State. After the legislation passed, CBST hosted a discussion with experts on the legal, financial, and social implications of marriage equality in New York. This year also saw another important move for CBST: the purchase of their own building, a permanent location for the congregation, at the intersection of the historically Jewish Garment District and traditionally LGBT-friendly Chelsea.
Tony Kushner is best known for his masterpiece, Angels in America, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for its portrayal of the early years of the AIDS crisis. Angels in America has been made into a movie and an opera and was restaged this year for the Signature Theater Company’s retrospective season. His most recent new play, “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures,” was performed at the Public Theater. It was Kushner’s first significant new play in nearly a decade.
Michael Tilson Thomas is the grandson of Yiddish theater performers Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky and a talented conductor and musician in his own right, having won awards for compositions including “From the Diary of Anne Frank.” This year, Thomas honored his grandparents’ memory with a traveling multimedia performance called “The Thomashefskys: Music and Memories of a Life in the Yiddish Theater.”
Florida congresswoman and chair of the Democratic National Committee Debbie Wasserman Schultz, has shown herself to be a strong LGBT ally. As a congresswoman, Wasserman Schultz supports prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation and is opposed to legislation defining marriage as between one man and one woman. She also voted in favor of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and has received a 100% rating from HRC. Wasserman Schultz also spent much of the past year refuting claims that Jewish voters are less strongly affiliated with the Democratic Party than in the past, a claim that does not align with actual voting statistics.
The Jewish Women's Archive, an organization dedicated to recognizing the contributions of Jewish women to the world, has suggested an additional nine women who could have been included in thisyear's Forward 50. Among them is Idit Klein, the executive director of Keshet, a Jewish LGBT organization with offices in Boston, Denver, and San Francisco. Keshet and GLAAD collaborated in our efforts to provide programming ideas for Spirit Day this past October 20. Nationwide, Keshet supports safe schools programs through film screenings and facilitated workshops, supports LGBT inclusion in Jewish communities, and provides support to emerging Jewish LGBT groups at the state and local levels.
GLAAD congratulates Rabbi Kleinbaum, Tony Kushner, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz on their recognition as important figures in the Jewish community and for their contributions both to the LGBT and Jewish communities and thanks the Jewish Women's Archive for their additional suggestion of Idit Klein, whose work through Keshet is making Jewish communities more welcoming of LGBT Jews.