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By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
He is living proof that not all religious leaders are anti-gay bigots. Rabbi David Horowitz, a national PFLAG board member, was in Michigan during the week of Nov. 14 to speak at the University of Michigan and two local PFLAG group meetings. Ordained in 1969, Horowitz has been the spiritual leader of congregations in Indiana, Queensland, Australia, and Akron, Ohio, where he is currently Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Israel. He is also the proud father of Wendy, who came out to her parents in 1990.
Horowitz has strong words for those who use what he calls “the religious argument” as an excuse for attempting to deny LGBTs the right to marry.
“What they are saying is ‘As we understand our religious orientation, this is a sin against God, and therefore we have no obligation to get civil liberties for people who are sinning against God.’ The reality, of course, is that they have just trampled all over my religious rights. Now they’ve come along and said, ‘Well, you can’t do registered weddings of gay people, because our religion says that that is a sin.’ So what they have done is absolutely destroyed the concept of separation of church and state – but beyond that, even if I didn’t care about that, they’ve now limited my religious freedom, and the religious freedom of the MCC Church, and the UU Church, and perhaps many in the UCC Church – you just go down the list.”
Horowitz said that his activism on behalf of LGBTs has taken him in unexpected directions.
“I started getting into issues that I didn’t think I would get into in terms of civil rights – the realization that what we define as a family is nonsense,” he said. “I mean, it’s not even a definition of a family that two centuries ago would have been understood, and … the religious position is the enemy of the GLBT community, and we’ve got to really work to change that. And that scares the heck out of me.”
The past fifteen years have proved quite an evolution for Horowitz, who admitted that when his daughter came out to him, “My first words, I think, were ‘Will you get help?’ Meaning, go to a psychologist and get this thing taken care of.” Horowitz said that he, “went through what most parents go through; probably all the stages of denial, of anger, – of, certainly, embarrassment,” wondering not only about his daughter, but also about how having a lesbian daughter would impact his own life and career. To his initial surprise, that impact has been entirely positive.
“It changed my life. It changed my career, it changed my rabbinic career, but never in a negative sense. Nothing negative ever happened to me because of my activity within the LGBT community,” he said, before telling BTL that his most personally moving experience since becoming an advocate for the civil rights of LGBTs was officiating at his daughter’s wedding to her partner two years ago.
“I think that most parents, and I include myself in this statement, when they first find out, think that they’ve lost the dream of being there and watching their children get married,” he said.
Asked what would have to happen before he would be able to say, “My work here is done,” and retire from pro-LGBT activism, Horowitz said, “I think we’d have to get to the point where there is a total acceptance of the loving relationships between individuals, even if on a religious level some people find that as wrong.”
Sadly, Horowitz also said that he does not expect to see that change come in his lifetime.
“I hope my kids will, but I’m not sure,” he said. “It seems to me that we are winning the cultural war. I mean, you can’t have a sitcom without a relatively out gay person on it. I think we’re generally winning the court wars – the judicial wars …. It’s not a straight line, but by and large the court decisions have been favorable. We are very, very seriously losing the political war. And it’s not, I don’t think so much that the majority of people in the United States feel that gay people should be trampled. I think that a majority don’t give a damn. And therefore they’re not the ones that go out to the polls and vote. But those folks who are in church on the Sunday before the Tuesday of the election, they’re going to be there.
“And unless we can find a way to mobilize that soft middle,” he added, “we’re going to continue to lose the political war, ’cause I think we’re really getting pushed around in politics.”
Horowitz said of his position as a rabbi with a lesbian daughter, “I never had to fight the system, I never had to fight the movement – it was coming along at about the same pace I was.” He cited resolutions by governing bodies within Reform Judaism since 1976 that have been increasingly supportive of gays, culminating with a 2000 resolution allowing rabbis to officiate at commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples.
“We went from tolerance to acceptance to the celebration of gay loving relationships. And I think that’s an incredible journey that happened in about a 25 year period, and paralleled where I was coming from after my daughter came out,” he said.
Horowitz is also no stranger to the “T” in “LGBT” – either in his work as an activist or in his personal life.
“My daughter’s partner, Julie, is now my daughter’s partner Julian,” he said, and added that although Julian’s transition has been a challenge for his daughter, “all of us, including them, are hoping this will work.”
Horowitz said that transgender individuals have always been a part of his LGBT activist life.
“Since I [have been] a member of PFLAG Akron, and I joined that in 1990 after my daughter came out, we have always had at least one or more trans people active in the chapter,” he said.
In keeping with Reform Judaism’s acceptance of diversity, Horowitz said that transgender individuals are welcome to become seminarians, and added that his seminary, Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion, “has a female to male trans student right now.”