Torn between progressive American values and the tightly conservative principles that guided life in Iran, Persian Jews have long felt a strong resistance to cultural change, notably so on the topic of LGBTQ identity.
As the United States has moved toward greater inclusion through the legalization of same-sex marriage, and while the larger Jewish community has worked towards greater awareness and inclusion of their LGBTQ members, the Persian community has fiercely resisted.
Family members and leaders from Los Angeles to New York are openly hostile and intolerant, wearing their shame on their sleeves and citing the Torah as their guide. Persian Pride at JQ International is one unique remedy that has been dynamically transforming this narrative in Los Angeles and beyond for over a year now. Housed by non-profit organization JQ International, which has worked towards the healthy fusion of LGBTQ and Jewish lives in Los Angeles for over a decade, JQ staff and lay leadership have capitalized on a tipping point in Persian-American society that is only moving towards greater pluralistic and progressive values with time.
LGBTQ Persian Jews are a triple minority often raised in a culture that is very hesitant and hostile to change. Conservative estimates suggest Persian Jews in the United States number around 80,000, mostly concentrated in Los Angeles and New York. Akin to the larger Orthodox Jewish community, Persian Jews pride themselves on conservative values. Currently, JQ is the only non-profit organization internationally that is actively programming for LGBTQ Persian Jews. Persian Pride at JQ International does three groundbreaking things:
- It provides programs and events for LGBTQ Persians to come together, and a safe space to accept those who are grappling with coming out of the closet.
- It facilitates therapy and support services for LGBTQ individuals and their family members challenged by understanding and normalizing LGBTQ identities.
- It boasts a free community education initiative, the only one of its kind, focused on destigmatizing the subject and moving the larger community on a spectrum from intolerance to fully embracing the Persian LGBTQ community.
JQ’s Persian Pride month, centered around the Persian New Year, was also the first of its kind and was immensely successful last year. JQ International is currently in the middle of its second annual Persian Pride Month, and will celebrate its 3rd Annual LGBTQ Norooz, or Persian New Year Party, on Wednesday March 15 at the W Hotel in Westwood.
JQ’s work is about improving the quality of life of LGBTQ Persian Jews and their families, and changing attitudes around the topic of LGBTQ identity throughout the Persian community in North America.
I never could have imagined the day when this work would be my career”, says “but I can confidently say that the lofty goal of pursuing one’s passions as a profession are well worth it – I’ve never been more proud of my community, and fulfilled by my work at once”.
The mission of JQ International is to promote holistic equality for Jewish and LGBTQ identities by providing social events, safe spaces, targeted therapy and support services, and exposure to the vast array of resources available for those in need. The mission of Persian Pride at JQ International is to provide these same offerings to the Persian community within a culturally and religiously sensitive context. In 2004, JQ was founded to provide a safe-space and identity building programs for the LGBTQ Jewish community. Over the years, it has grown to provide niche programming, teen programming, inclusion consulting, and the one-of-a-kind international JQ Helpline. Today, JQ is a dynamic and impactful organization that creates community, provides education, and offers life-saving safety-net services.
Arya Marvazy is the director of Persian programming at JQ International.