February 25, 2020

Why we are crying

I was reminiscing with a friend last night about my 21 years as rabbi of Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC), the first and oldest LGBT synagogue in the world (founded in 1972). I arrived in 1994, in the midst of the AIDS crisis, and my calendar filled immediately with death-bed conversations, funerals, shivahs and a congregation in grief.

In 2008, my calendar filled to overflowing again, this time with the extraordinary high of wedding after wedding during that all-too- brief 4 1/2-month window of legal marriage in California before Proposition 8 slammed the window shut.

My reminiscing was prompted, of course, by news of the 5-4 Supreme Court decision on the morning of June 26 — flinging open the window of marriage equality in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.  

My wife, Tracy Moore, an out lesbian activist since the early 1970s, wrote to her cousin that Friday:  

“It does seem that change happened fast! Consider how long it took to get Loving v. Virginia (1967) to do away with ‘anti-miscegenation’ laws. Still, many have long suffered for lack of these rights. Children forgone, deathbed farewells forbidden, inheritances appropriated, jobs lost or not striven toward thru fear of exposure, relationships undermined for lack of family support. On and on. I’m glad you helped me think of those things by sending me your congratulations on this most thrilling day.”

I think of people I have known personally:

The years she lived in fear her ex-husband would sue her for sole custody by outing her in court as “unfit.”

The father whose children were removed from his life — even visiting rights, let alone joint custody, were denied.

The one dying from AIDS, whose parents descended and locked his partner out of his house.

I remember the first time I saw pieces of the AIDS Memorial Quilt: “I am 21 years old. If you are reading this, I am dead.” 

The toll taken over the years on teachers who chose to deny being gay or lesbian so as not to lose their livelihood or be denied the job they loved.

I cried, too, watching President Barack Obama in the Rose Garden telling the country that the Supreme Court’s marriage decision moved us a step closer to a more perfect union, even knowing that he would leave the garden moments later to fly to Charleston, S.C., and deliver that eloquent eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the nine voices of faith killed by the disease of racism and violence still running rampant in our country. (Since the shooting, six historically Black churches have been victims of arson.)

And suddenly I was crying again — remembering the LGBT community’s delicate balance on Election Night in November 2008, when news of Obama’s thrilling election came side-by-side with the Prop. 8 win, which brought a screeching halt to the weddings and aufrufs our community had been so enjoying.

On June 28, BCC honored actor Jeffrey Tambor for his extraordinary work as the character Mort/Maura Pfefferman in Jill Soloway’s amazing Amazon Prime series, “Transparent,” and for his commitment to use his star turn to advocate for LGBT people, particularly transgender people who face so many hurdles in their lives, including civil rights withheld from them. 

At Friday’s rally on the Day of Decision in West Hollywood Park, where LGBT people and our allies have gathered so many times over the years, shedding tears of outrage, sorrow and joy, I was reminded that our tears have fed the roots of our resolve to resist, persist and overcome. 

 As a representative of the faith community at Friday’s rally, I reminded the crowd (though many needed no reminding):

We know marriage is not the be-all and end-all of civil rights. We know that marriage is not for everyone, nor is it bliss for all who enter it.  

We know that there are many battles still to fight, for transgender rights, health care rights — including mental health, rights to living wages, to shelter, to food, to legal immigration, to gun control, to an end to global warming, and an end to bullying and discrimination and prejudice and injustice in all their many forms.

As a religious community, we celebrate today how far we have come. But we don’t rest yet — we know there is a long road ahead until the day we can say that all people, all genders, all colors, all configurations of families, may truly rest secure knowing that the law is there to protect us all so that all human hearts may open wide and let love in. Let Love Win. 

Rabbi Lisa Edwards is rabbi of Beth Chayim Chadashim (