It’s in that moment when a young Jewish person realizes they’re gay and has no idea where to turn, or their parents are confused about what to say to their teen who’s just come out to them, that JQ International can be the island in the storm.
Founded in 2004 as a place for young people who identify as both Jewish and LGBTQ and need help feeling like they’re normal and have the support they need, JQ’s work fills a space for many who feel lost.
“We created a place where those identities could come together, be celebrated and affirmed,” Asher Gellis, Executive Director of JQ International told the Los Angeles Blade.
“What we noticed early on, were similar stories, lots of young people who had great Jewish role models, but no LGBTQ role models; leaving them with a message that there was no place for them as gay or lesbian Jews adults.”
We decided we would be those role models in the community, doing workshops with teens and adults, and advocate for greater awareness in the Jewish space for inclusion to change that message — to be more embracing. With teen programs around Los Angeles for 14 to 17-year-olds, including allies, we partner with about 40 synagogues, we help institutions become truly inclusive, versus simply tolerant, Gellis says.
One of the key components of JQ’s work is the helpline. A place for people to call and get the support they need to help them to accept and mesh both their Jewish and gay identities.
“When I was trying to come out, I’d never heard Jewish and lesbian in the same sentence. Now, when people have these feelings, I hope they will find us,” Rabbi Rachel Bat-Or says.
Rabbi Bat-Or told the Blade she was looking to volunteer somewhere when she learned of the work JQ was doing in the community. She spoke with Gellis and says she knew she was in the right place. “I’m a rabbi, a lesbian, and a psychotherapist, the helpline is where I needed to be,” she says.
“Unfortunately, what they say today when they call is no different than what I said many years ago. ‘I’m not normal. No one will understand. I’m afraid I’m the only one. My family is Orthodox and they’ll never accept me.’ People are coming out younger, but also in their 40s, 50s, and 60’s. We get a lot of men who got married, knowing they were gay, and got married anyway because they wanted to fit in, and now at the age of 50, 60 and even 70, they want to live an authentic life.”
She says growing up; it was all about ‘what will the neighbors say.’ JQ hopes to turn that shame into service.
“When I speak to people on the help line, I know that I’ve done something to change the course of someone’s life.”
Neil Goetz, is a JQ board member. He came to the organization after his husband, Kevin Goetz, a Hollywood film veteran, was honored for his work at the 2016 annual garden brunch.
Neil Goetz says his late father was a rabbi. He says growing up gay and Jewish was extremely challenging, so when he found JQ, he felt like he wanted to be a part of it.
He took the training for the Speaker’s Bureau, and goes out to schools and different parts of the community and tells his story to people.
“I wish there’d been something like this growing up. I came of age in the 70s. There was recreational drug use, it was the disco and pre-AIDS era, and I grew up in a very Orthodox home, it caused a lot of stress for me to be myself,” Goetz says.
As a board member, he says the only thing that JQ is missing currently is that celebrity face – a Lady Gaga, Rosie O’Donnell, or Barry Manilow, to bring a spotlight to the work of the organization, and of course more money to support the various programs.
At this year’s 2017 Garden Brunch, Zvi Howard Rosenmann, a well-known Hollywood producer, was honored with the Trailblazer’s award. He told the over 200 guests gathered at a Beverly Hills manse, that JQ gives people the same pride to embrace their gay identities as to embrace their Jewish identities.
It was said over and over throughout the afternoon brunch, JQ is that bridge between the challenging questions of what it means to be LGBTQ and Jewish and the answers.
As honoree Liana Chaoluli, President and Founder of Image Therapists International, an author and style expert said simply in her speech thanking JQ for her award, “JQ, like my own life’s work, is about being you, because everyone else is taken.”