by Leah Jalfon, MHWOW Program Manager

At Moishe House’s North American Training Conference this year, we did something we’ve never done before. Molly Cram, Director of House Programs, created Plus One: six break out sessions led by all star educators and Moishe House staff about how to include communities that are underrepresented in Jewish spaces.

I attended the session on LGBTQ inclusion led by Essie Shachar-Hill, the Education and Training Manager for Keshet, an international organization that works for the full equality of all LGBTQ Jews and their families in Jewish life.

We started by sharing our names, pronouns, and why we chose to be at this session. My answer was twofold: as a Moishe House staff member, I really want everyone to feel welcome at Moishe House. I’m also an MHWOW host who founded a group called Queer Jews of the Queen City, so I want my own programs to feel safe for everyone.

We then learned some basic LGBTQ terminology and looking at trannstudent.org’s Gender Unicorn. 

Sharing pronouns has become more common, especially at Moishe House programs, so one of the most valuable parts of the session was when Essie shared with us why pronouns are important:

“On the most basic level, using people’s correct pronouns is about kavod (respect). In the same way we ask people’s names so we can refer to them correctly, using people’s pronouns is about honoring them as a person. As Jews, we are tasked with loving our neighbors and strangers, as we were once strangers in Egypt. In a work or learning environment, people can’t be productive and fully present if they feel ignored, invisible, and disrespected. Sharing, asking, and using correct pronouns helps maintain shalom bayit (peace in the home) by contributing to an environment where everyone can be comfortable and safe.”

-From keshetonline.org

We discussed how heteronormativity (the belief that heterosexuality is the default or norm) and cisnormativity (the assumption that all human beings have a gender identity which matches their biological sex) play out in our communities and started brainstorming some best practices for creating LGBTQ-inclusive communities. 

Here are three things you can do to make your programs more LGBTQ-inclusive.

  1. Pronouns Promote Inclusiveness

When bringing a group of people together, ask everyone to introduce themselves with their name and what pronouns they use at the beginning of every program. As the host, start first so that other people can follow your format. Example: My name is Leah, and the pronouns I use are she/her/hers. Getting this done sooner rather than later in the program minimizes the opportunities for people to make incorrect assumptions. Avoid framing pronouns as “preferred gender pronouns” or “PGPs” because this terminology implies that an individual’s pronouns are optional.

  1. Restrooms are for Everyone

Everyone at your program should be able to use the restroom that suits their gender identity, and the best practice is to make restrooms all gender. I personally like the term “all gender” rather than “gender neutral” because all gender celebrates all gender identities. At the beginning of the program, it’s helpful to publicly inform all participants of the location of the all gender restroom(s). Here’s an all gender bathroom sign you can print out for your programs.

  1. Language is Power, Y’all!

Adapting your program titles and descriptions make a big difference. If the language and imagery on your event page, emails, and RSVP forms aren’t inclusive, someone could write off your program before they’ve even had the chance to check it out in person. Be intentional with your language to make sure it’s welcoming for anyone of any background. One quick tip is to swap out gendered terms like “ladies” or “guys ” for more all-encompassing words like “folks” or “y’all” when addressing a group. Also look at the images you’re using in promotional materials. If they depict mostly straight couples, consider reevaluating!

Moishe House is still learning, and we are committed to continuing to build inclusive communities. I’m really excited to apply what we learned from Essie to Moishe House programming as a whole. We always welcome feedback and questions on how we can be more inclusive, so please reach out to me (leah.jalfon@moishehouse.org) or Molly Cram (molly@moishehouse.org) if you want to talk. You can also contact Essie at essie.shachar.hill@keshetonline.org about all things Jewish and LGBTQ.