Shabbat Bo - LGBT History Month sermon



Sermon for Shabbat Bo

 LGBT Theme - 28th January 2012


"For we were strangers in a strange land"


Many of us know what it is like to be "strangers in a strange land".

Even if it is not our generation directly, it may have been our parents, grand-parents or even great-grandparents who came to this country [whether the wider UK or Scotland in particular] and found themselves as "strangers in a strange land".


In our faith tradition we understand only too well what it is to be "strangers in a strange land" going right back two, three or even four thousand years. We have been "immigrants" for many generations: ever since the time prior to the Exodus from Egypt and arrival in Canaan which we have just heard about in the Parashah from Exodus and Haftarah from Joshua.


You may be wondering, "What has this to do with our LGBT theme today?" and rightly so.


For many LGBT people over the last fifty or sixty years it has been as if they were "strangers" in their own communities. Thankfully, during the last ten years, there has been a sea-change in people's attitudes and opinions towards those whom they have perceived as being "different" - they have felt alienated among their own people or communities merely because they did not "fit in" - they had to conform to a "norm", as others.


February is LGBT History Month which celebrates diversity both in its widest and in its specific sense.


We celebrate the diversity of the different races, Faiths and cultures represented within our country, but we also celebrate the diversity of humanity itself.


LGBT History Month is recognised all over the UK but it is particularly poignant in Scotland, especially as the Scottish Parliament has made a point of promoting "One Scotland, One People", as may be seen in the introduction to "Scotland's Jews", in which the First Minister pays tribute to the contribution of Scotland's Jews to the cultural life of Scotland. He says that "it is a rich mixture of people of diverse backgrounds and everyone has their part to play in weaving the tartan of Scottish society" which he also calls the "rich tapestry of Scotland's history".


It is against this backdrop that we saw the launch of the seventh LGBT History Month at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday night which was organised by LGBT Youth Scotland. I was privileged to have been invited to attend the event.


This was a momentous occasion during which we saw videos which had been made by both the First Minister, Alex Salmond, and by several young LGBT people, many of whom were at the event itself. These videos were part of a project entitled "It Gets Better". They were designed, planned and executed by the young people and they highlighted the problem which many of them face, that of bullying in schools, because they are seen by their peers to be "different" by some people's standards. [Editor's note - the Scottish First Minister's and the young people's contributions may be found by putting "It Gets Better" in your search engine - there are several sources.]


We are particularly lucky in Scotland, unlike many other parts of the UK and, worse still in other parts of the world, where LGBT people are not only bullied, but tortured, imprisoned and even executed just for being LGBT. Many of us who are of the older generation can remember when homosexuality was a criminal offence which carried a prison sentence, as well as the infamous Clause 28 (in Scotland it was Clause 2a), both of which have now been abolished, thankfully. It was a long hard battle on the part of many LGBT people over recent decades, and of the Stonewall organisation, to get these clauses abolished.


Going back to the issue of bullying for a moment - the First Minister said that, in Scotland, bullying of any kind will not be tolerated. We have already seen and heard in the news about the measures which the Scottish Parliament is taking to tackle sectarianism - the issue of bullying, especially in schools, is also being tackled.


Now Scotland is in the lead with regard to the total inclusion of the LGBT community and the promotion of EQUALITY. In fact we are ahead of the rest of the UK in the matter of Equal Marriage. It is now being seen as essential for same-sex couples to have the right to marry legally, with a religious ceremony if their Faith tradition approves it, not just to have a Civil Partnership. By the same token, many hetero-sexual couples wish to have the option of having a Civil Partnership rather than a marriage. It is for these reasons that the Scottish Parliament launched the consultation process on Equal Marriage.


Many of us have taken part in the Consultation process launched by the Scottish Parliament last September and which closed on 9th December. This consultation process will, hopefully, lead to the changes in legislation which will enable Equal Marriage for ALL couples, whether hetero-sexual or same-sex. Up until now, same sex couples have only been allowed to have a Civil Partnership to celebrate their love and commitment to each other. Even this is much more than was available ten years ago.


Thousands of people have taken part in this Consultation process either as individuals, organisations or as Faith groups. Many of us completed the consultation document and our own community's response was submitted within the response made by the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, SCoJeC.


All opinions on the issue of same-sex marriages and its implications have been represented and put forward. Now that the consultation time has ended, all the issues and submissions are being very carefully scrutinised and considered by Members of the Scottish Parliament and a decision will be reached in due course as to the best way forward.  Scotland is at the vanguard of this change in legislation, if it should come about. We are spearheading this and, to my knowledge, we are ahead of the rest of the UK.


There has been a great deal of lobbying on the part of people from both sides - those who are in favour of Equal Marriage and those who are against it. We have been at considerable pains to respect the views of others and of other Faith communities even if they are opposed to our own.


Of course there are many divergent opinions and attitudes towards the LGBT community and their rights to Equal Marriage - our main protagonists are those who are very right-wing in their views and who seek to try to prevent any changes in legislation. One of the main points which many do not see is that no-one and no Faith organisation to which they are affiliated will be forced into doing anything against their consciences, beliefs or traditions. In fact, in the interests of fairness, the Scottish Parliament has put "on hold" a Petition containing 500,000 signatures - Scotland For Marriage - until they have reached a decision based upon their findings in the Consultation. They feel it is inappropriate to address the demands of the Petition until a fair decision has been reached. Only then will they consider the Petition in context.


I was privileged to be present at the Press Conference held at the Scottish Youth Parliament at which five Faith Community leaders or representatives, including Rabbi Mark, made up the panel. All of them, and some of us as individuals, had issued press statements in advance. Such an event could not have taken place ten years ago.  Twenty, thirty, forty or fifty years ago it could not possibly have even been dreamed of or envisaged. That is how far we have come in recognition of LGBT members in society.


As a Liberal Jewish Community we have always been supportive of LGBT members - this was one of the issues considered when we chose to become affiliated to Liberal Judaism several years ago. We are a fully-inclusive community and this is something of which we ought to be very proud.


Liberal Judaism in the UK has been the first Jewish movement to have produced and use its own Service book for same-sex commitment ceremonies - "Covenant of Love" - our own Rabbi Mark was one of its Editors.


I feel very privileged to be a part of this community because it supports the rights of LGBT people - we are a community which welcomes and affirms all people and which embraces everyone of all persuasions.


I am proud to be part of Liberal Judaism which is leading the way in Faith communities.  Most of all, I am proud to be living in Scotland which I adopted as my home (as many others have done) seventeen years ago.


Living in Scotland and being part of this community has allowed many of us to be actually who we really are, something which many of us could not do forty or fifty years ago. We no longer feel as if we are "strangers in a strange land".  We know we are all included, welcomed and embraced by this community.




We are one family - God's family - and proud to be part of it.


I do hope that many of you will look at the LGBT History Month website and see what other events are being held during February. There are resources on that page for those who are interested in knowing more.  Elsewhere there are Liturgical resources and Prayers for special life-cycle events for LGBT couples and singles - the book "KULANU" is one of them.


There are many commentaries on Leviticus, also known as the Holiness Code:-


1] We are the strangers

"You must not oppress the stranger" based on Leviticus 19:33


2] "When strangers reside with you in your land, you shall not wrong them" -

Leviticus 19:33


3] "The strangers who reside with you shall be to you as your citizens: you

shall love each one as yourself for you were strangers in the land of Egypt"

- Leviticus 19:34


4] We are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Jews

"Do not deal basely with members of your people" - Leviticus 19:16


Affirm us, support us for we, too, are part of the Jewish family, God's family. We were ALL made in God's image - "B'tzelem Elohim" - Genesis 1:27 - we were made as we were intended to be.


Be with us and travel our journey alongside us.


As Jews, we have a responsibility to "KNOW THE HEART OF THE STRANGER" - Let us not be as "strangers", for we are all God's people.


                                                                   Rebekah Gronowski - 28th January 2012

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