LGBTQ+ community welcomes the return of in-person Pride

Pride is “now a celebration, more than a demand for rights.” – A.J. Campbell

Story by Eric Schucht and Lexi Gopin
Photos by Lexi Gopin

At Washington’s Freedom Plaza on Saturday, a large crowd, here for Capital Pride, surrounded a small stage decorated with a banner reading, “Still We Are Colorful” in rainbow letters. Music blasted across the plaza as celebrants cheered, danced, waved their pride flags and embraced.

Cars decorated for the Pridemobile Parade lined Pennsylvania Avenue. One car had a pink heart-shaped sign on the back that read “Pride is Loving.” Merrick Garb and Eric Goldberg were at the center of the crowd, enjoying the celebration.

“We need Pride this year, more than ever, because people are needing social interaction and they’re tired of Zoom calls,” said Garb, who was pleased that the District lifted COVID-19 restrictions just in time for this year’s Pride March.

“If you’re an ally, please support your friends and family that are out or are in the process of coming out as LGBT,” he said. “Let’s be extra nice to each other this year because we really need a happy occasion.”

Eric Goldberg who, like Garb, is a member of Nice Jewish Boys, a social group for gay, bisexual and transgender Jewish men, said that Pride is a process.

“It’s a journey to loving who you are and it’s also a time to remember everyone who fought so that we could have the opportunities we have today. It’s time to also realize that there’s still more work to do,” Goldberg said.

Merrick Garb (r) with Eric Goldberg

The usually celebratory Pride Weekend was especially welcome this year, after the pandemic forced the cancellation of last year’s in-person Pride Parade. LGBTQ+ Jews, whether at celebrations or Pride-themed religious services, said this year offered them a chance to gather with their community again.

The evening before the march, the pulpit at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington was lit up like a rainbow for its National Pride Shabbat service.

Among the speakers was Ray Gergen, who identifies as queer, trans and non-binary. Wearing rainbow suspenders and a kippah, Gergen recounted attending their first Pride Shabbat in 2019. Gergen wasn’t raised as a Jew and had only started attending Shabbat services a few weeks before. They were nervous, wondering if there was a place for a queer person in the Jewish community. “By the end of the service, I was up dancing in the aisle, singing and we were all holding hands, pre-COVID,” Gergen said.

Anna Goldman said before she identified as gay and came out, she felt Pride parades and celebrations were “overblown, attention-grabbing displays of affection nobody wanted to see.” Now she says those feelings came from “internalized homophobia.” It took her a long time to find self-acceptance and realize that “I was good enough, just the way I am.”

Goldman said that for most of her life, she distrusted synagogues, which she believed would never accept a gay person.

“Of all the places I thought about celebrating Pride, here in synagogue was never, ever one of them,” Goldman said. But over the past 10 years she reconnected with the Jewish community and feels embraced.

“The more I connected to this faith, the more I struggled with how to fully accept Judaism into my life while respecting and loving the gay identity I had taken so long to grow,” Goldman said. “For a long time, these two things could never come together. But tonight, I stand here, comfortable, happy and extremely proud to feel both these things so strongly.”

As she marched in Saturday’s parade, A.J. Campbell wished the people she passed “happy Pride.” A past president of Nice Jewish Girls and board member for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, Campbell has attended Pride events since the 1990s.

“It’s now a celebration, more than a demand for rights,” she said. “That wasn’t always the case. When I was younger, it was a demand for rights.”

When Campbell was growing up, being gay was illegal, and one could be arrested for it. Same-sex marriage was legalized nationally only in 2015.

At Freedom Plaza in Washington, people celebrate Pride Weekend after the pandemic forced the cancellation of events last year.

Campbell, who was raised in a Modern Orthodox community, sees many similarities in Jewish and queer identities.

“Jews are the ultimate outsider. We’re accepted, but we’re not totally accepted,” she said. “There’s homophobia that shows up and there’s antisemitism that shows up and it’s sort of generated from the same animus that we’re not entirely part of the main group.”

Campbell believes the Jewish community could learn a valuable lesson from the radical inclusion present in the LGBTQ community. “We’re always trying to decide who’s a Jew and what’s acceptable and who gets to say if you’re Jewish. Well, in the queer community, we don’t have such restrictions. You can move between categories and almost nobody notices. You’re just accepted,” she said.

At another Pride service, held by Nice Jewish Boys, Nice Jewish Girls, Bet Mishpachah and Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center, Rabbi Jake Singer-Beilin of Bet Mishpachah said Pride month is a time for the Jewish community to acknowledge the sins that have and are still being committed against the LGBTQ community. And it’s also an opportunity to celebrate how far the community has come toward acceptance and inclusion.

“This month is a time to celebrate the transformations that have occurred in our community and in our country,” Singer-Beilin said. “Previous sins that have now been transformed into something holy, like a covering on the altar of love. We celebrate the communal Jewish institutions that once excluded, but now have made teshuvah [repentance] and embrace.”

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