Judy Lewis says she wants to help those individuals "who are afraid to come out and speak for themselves." BTL photo: Elizabeth Carnegie
When Judy Lewis√ïs daughter, Jessica, stood up and passionately urged legislators to support second-parent adoption for gay people at the first CARE lobby day, Lewis felt proud.
√íMy daughter inspires me,√ì says Lewis, who√ïs a lesbian.
Lewis, president of The Jewish Gay Network of Michigan, helps provide a sense of community, information, empowerment and education in a respectful environment. √íI feel that someone needs to speak for those individuals who are afraid to come out and speak for themselves,√ì she says. √íI decided I needed to be that person.√ì
Recently, Lewis wrote a grant to the Jewish Women's Foundation. JWF granted JGN $9,600 for a yearlong series of bi-monthly sessions to outreach to lesbians, mothers or children of lesbians, or any other individual willing to open his or her heart to a marginalized segment of the Jewish community.
√íJudy has jumped into the presidency of JGN and brings enthusiasm, creativity and a willingness to devote time and energy,√ì says Linda Lee, coordinator and "den mother" for JGN. Lewis is passionate in her belief that a program such as this one can save lives, Lee continues. Lee believes she creates a welcoming Jewish community because Lewis knows it√ïs essential to encourage LGBT Jews to want to be a part of the organized Jewish community.
While Lewis was the network chair of Sexual Orientation in Jewish Education of the National Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education, an organization of Jewish teachers, clergy, educators and lay leaders, she enlisted the help of LGBT individuals and organizations nationwide and provided over a dozen LGBT sessions at the CAJE conference — one of her proudest moments.
But her work in the community doesn√ït end there. √íAs long as parents are still losing custody of their children, simply because of their sexual orientation, we have work to do,√ì she says. √íAs long as people remain afraid of losing their home, their family, their employment — we have work to do!√ì
Recently, she wrote a grant to the Jewish Women√ïs Foundation for a series of programs for lesbians, which will include issues of health, family, adoption and self-esteem.
√íIt is crucial that we find every possible way to create safe space for every lesbian, and to educate the entire community, gay and straight, about the harm done by fear,√ì Lewis says.
Lewis has seen fear in the eyes of young LGBT teens who don√ït have a √ísafe space√ì and don√ït feel visible and who end up abusing drugs or on the streets. √íWhen we become more visible and less frightening to the straight society, we create a stronger, more secure environment for everyone,√ì Lewis says.
She√ïs also seen fear in the face of one lesbian√ïs struggle to retain custody of her child.
Several years ago Lewis watched as a woman from a small town in upper Michigan pleaded to divorce her husband and take custody of their children. She was told she needed to stay with her abusive husband or she√ïd lose custody to him because of her sexual orientation, Lewis says. √íI still see her face,√ì Lewis says.
When Lewis, who√ïs in her 50s, isn√ït working, she makes jewelry and spends time gardening. She says she√ïs a sucker for romantic √íchick√ì flicks like √íSleepless In Seattle√ì and √íPretty Woman√ì and listens to contemporary Jewish music such as Debbie Friedman.
She also spends her time with her partner of 27 years and daughter, Jessica. But now that Jessica is 28 years old and Lewis is free of leading a Girl Scout troop, teaching Sunday school and directing a choir, √ílife holds many new challenges and opportunities.√ì
√íI√ïd like to be more involved in educating the general community about the need for tolerance,√ì she says. √íAnd I√ïd like to help make a difference in the lives of people who are afraid.√ì