Celebrating Jewish LGBT Pride

By Dorot Jewish Division Staff
June 7, 2021
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

In honor of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Pride Month in June, the Dorot Jewish Division recognizes the achievements of LGBT Jews in history and in the Library’s collection. Here are some key moments and figures.

Jewish Pioneers in LGBT Rights

Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935) was a German Jewish doctor and author who fought to decriminalize homosexuality in Germany.

“What the people must know about the third sex” was a 1901 publication of Magnus Hirschfeld’s Scientific-Humanitarian committee

Jeanne Manford, mother of a gay son, was a co-founder of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) in 1973.

Miriam Ben-Shalom, an openly lesbian sergeant in the U.S. Army, spent decades fighting for LGBT rights in the military.

Retired Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts served as the first openly gay member of the U.S. House of Representatives, coming out in 1987.

Joy Ladin, a poet, author, and Yeshiva University professor, is the first openly transgender person employed at an Orthodox Jewish institution.

Harvey Milk was a pioneering leader and one of the the first openly gay people elected to public office, and was assassinated a year after taking office.

Faygele ben Miriam, also known as John Singer, together with Paul Barwick, attempted to get the first same-sex marriage license in Seattle in 1971.

Author Leslea Newman’s often-banned Heather Has Two Mommies was the first children’s book to portray lesbian families in a positive way.

Edie Windsor successfully sued the U.S. government for recognition of her Canadian marriage to her late wife, Thea Spyer, ultimately overturning the “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) with her lawyer, Roberta Kaplan.

LGBT Achievements in Judaism

Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), established in 1973, is the world’s largest LGBT synagogue, led by Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum since 1992.

Rabbi Rebecca Alpert and Dr. Judith Plaskow have advocated through scholarship for feminist and LGBT-inclusive liturgy and ritual.

Rabbi Steven Greenberg, educated at Yeshiva University and author of Wrestling with God and Men, is considered the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi.

Trembling Before G-d, a 2001 film by Sandi Simcha Dubowski, was the first film to explore the lives of LGBT Orthodox Jews.

Rabbi Reuven Zelman became the first openly transgender rabbinical student in 2003, and in 2006, Rabbi Elliot Kukla became the first openly transgender rabbi, both at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

Congregation Shaar Zahav of San Francisco published Siddur Shaar Zahav, the first Jewish LGBT prayer book, in 2009.

In 2015, Rabbi Denise Eger became the first openly gay or lesbian rabbi to head the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

Georgette Kennebrae and Sandra Lawson are both African American, openly lesbian rabbinical students at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, with ordination set respectively for 2017 and 2018.

On the shelves

Joan Nestle

Activist and author Joan Nestle co-founded the Lesbian Herstory Archives, the world's largest collection of materials by and about Lesbians. NYPL Digital Collections Image ID: 1661019

Evelyn Torton Beck edited Nice Jewish Girls: A Lesbian Anthology and published other works in Jewish Studies and Women’s Studies.

Warren J. Blumenfeld writes and speaks about social justice, intersection of oppressions, and bullying prevention..

Kate Bornstein writes, speaks and performs about transgender and gender identity issues.

Judith Butler’s work concerns feminism, gender, and queer theory.

Carol Conaway writes and researches on African American women's intellectual traditions.

Martin Duberman

Scholar and author Martin Duberman’s archives are held at NYPL, which also has a research fellowship in his name for LGBT Studies. NYPL Digital Collections Image ID: 1661034

Lillian Faderman’s works highlight lesbian history in America.

Leslie Feinberg was an author and pioneer in the field of transgender studies.

William Finn, a composer and writer, creates works for the American musical theater.

Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg was an innovative and openly gay poet of the Beat movement. NYPL Digital Collections Image ID: 483443

Warren Hoffman’s work addresses Jewish and queer identity and race.

Jonathan Ned Katz’s works deal with gay history and African-American Studies, and NYPL’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture holds some of his manuscripts and research materials.

Melanie Kaye-Kantrowitz’s works focus on Jews and whiteness; racism, history (including women’s history), anti-Semitism and class.

Irena Klepfisz

Irena Klepfisz addresses lesbian-feminism, the Holocaust and social justice in her work. NYPL Digital Collections Image ID: 1661039

Tony Kushner’s works address homophobia, AIDS, and racism through a dramatic lens.

Walter Moseley is a prolific and award-winning author known for his best-selling works.

Adrienne Rich was arenowned poet, essayist and scholar.

David Schneer’s work concerns Jewish history and culture, while Caryn Aviv’s work deal with sociology and anthropology; together, they edited the anthologies Queer Jews and American Queer, Now and Then.

Want to learn more?

Check out these recommended books and resources on LGBT Jewish topics.

Visit NYPL’s Digital Collections for historical portraits of LGBT writers, artists and activists, including those pictured here.