The Torah describes male homosexual sex as an abomination, but non-Orthodox Jews have long been at the forefront of the “equality” movement.
As double minorities, LGBT Jews are small in number but have left a profound mark on the course of history.
It’s not surprising that Jews have played a monumental role in erasing bigotry in all shapes and forms. Inherent in Jewish identity is a drive for social justice, or tikkun olam, the belief in repairing the world. From the initial battle for decriminalization and workplace protections to the fight against AIDS and the pursuit for marriage equality, LGBT Jews have been at the forefront of the equality movement.
In honor of Pride Month, here are ten influential LGBT Jewish leaders you need to know:
1. Magnus Hirschfeld
Born in 1868, the German physicist is widely regarded as the first advocate for LGBT rights. Dubbed the “Einstein of sex,” he supported in his research the validity of sexual diversity and transgender identity. In 1919, Hirschfeld co-founded the Institute for Sexual Research in Berlin where he performed the world’s first sexual reassignment surgery. The institute and its library were later destroyed in 1933 when the Nazis took control of Germany.
2. Harvey Milk
As California’s first openly gay person to hold public office, Milk quickly moved to sponsor a bill outlawing discrimination against gays and lesbians in the workplace that, when signed into law, became the most progressive such measure in U.S. history. His tragic assassination coincided with the dramatic and unprecedented emergence of gay activism during the 1970s. In 2009, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
4. Larry Kramer
Launching his career as an Academy Award nominated screenwriter (Women in Love) and later a Tony Award winning playwright (The Normal Heart), Kramer would become best known as the central figure in AIDS activism. Dubbed “the angriest man in America,” he channeled his firebrand style of activism to combat anti-LGBT forces and expose bigotry during the AIDS epidemic. In 1982, he co-founded GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis), the nation’s first and largest HIV service organization. Then, in 1987, he founded ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), a more radical group that pressured government agencies to focus on resolving the crisis. In 1988, he organized a protest in front of the FDA’s Wall Street office, blocking entrances from all sides. The incident garnered widespread media attention, resulting in hundreds of activists being arrested, but was ultimately successful in making government agencies change the way they test HIV medications.