A decade ago, Shane Cusumano was an openly gay Jew, but he had no social outlet that combined those two identities. That changed when he moved to Washington and joined a new organization, GLOE — The Kurlander Program for GLBTQ Outreach & Engagement.
“I have a space that has been carved out specifically for my community to get to know each other, network and form friendships,” he said, “and that has had a huge impact on my life.”
On Sunday, Cusumano and 100 others gathered on a terrace at the Watergate West apartments in Washington to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the program. It was an opportunity to reflect on the need GLOE filled for many in the Jewish LGBTQ community: the ability to celebrate one’s religious and queer identities together.
The presence of GLOE, which is housed at the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center, is a sign of how the Jewish community has grown to accept individuals with varying identities, said Josef Palermo, GLOE’s director.
“Ten years ago we were in an entirely different place when it came to LGBTQ issues,” he said. “GLOE was founded as the gay and lesbian outreach program, and in the past 10 years we’ve seen a lot of visibility and representation around trans [gender] identities. It’s expanded the name of GLOE to be much more inclusive.”
A number of groups for queer Jews existed before 2007, including the minyan Bet Mishpachah, which started meeting in the 1970s. But GLOE has helped LGBTQ Jews continue to observe Jewish practice, which former director Halley Cohen said can wane after someone comes out. This can happen either because of negative experiences with their Jewish community, or because their interest in queer groups outweighs their interest in Judaism.
“I think one of the strengths of GLOE is that we’re able to say there isn’t just one way to be a queer Jew,” she said. “One of the things that is really important is that if you’re an arts person, if you’re a social justice person, if you’re a person with kids, if your Jewish identity is a bagel at brunch or is about getting people together for Shabbat, there’s all sorts of ways of doing that.”
Cohen said she remembers a year when more than 300 people from 18 synagogues and organizations marched in the Capital Pride Parade.
“We had a young man marching with us who said, ‘This is the best day of my life,’ because he had never been able to be out in his Jewish community before, and that’s powerful,” she said.
Gil Preuss, the new CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, told the gathering: “People have asked me why I wanted to come to Washington, and one of the things I’ve been saying is that it’s an incredibly diverse and inclusive community, and it’s the type of community we all aspire to build. It’s easy for me to say that because of what GLOE has done.”
GLOE has reached more than 3,000 people, said Stuart Kurlander, who founded the group. He told the gathering that he did so to combine his two worlds as a Jewish community leader and openly gay man. He chose the Edlavitch JCC as its home, he said, because it was a central location for Jews in Washington and had a reputation for being inclusive.
“I wanted to make sure that no one coming to a GLOE program had any hesitation at all to walking through the door,” he said.
(Kurlander is a member of the ownership group of Mid-Atlantic Media, which publishes Washington Jewish Week.)