Los Angeles-based leading LGBTQ+ Jewish organization JQ International hosted its annual flagship JQ Awards Brunch on Sunday, April 14.
Hosted by comedian Shawn Pelofsky, this year’s event honored Linda Schein Fife and Lorin Fife with the Community Leadership Award, Yoni Kollin with the Inspiration Award and Rabbi Zach Shapiro with the Visibility Award. The Pride L.A. spoke with JQ International Executive Director Asher Gellis about the event.
“This was a fantastic year for our annual Awards Brunch,” Gellis said. “We had a huge turnout and increased community support. We have already heard great feedback from community leaders and our guests alike.”
This was the sixth year JQ International hosted such an event.
“As we grew as an organization, a common storyline emerged,” Gellis said. “Many of our community members spoke of good Jewish experiences with great Jewish role models as children, but noted a complete absence of LGBTQ and ally role models — let alone LGBTQ Jewish role models. This encouraged what I believe was an unintentional belief — that there was no place for them in the Jewish community as out adults. It wasn’t enough that we created safe identity building spaces for our adults who came to us. We realized that we needed to go back into the Jewish community and be those role models for the youth to see.”
The Awards event is considered the “natural” community-wide version of this initiative, Gellis said.
“We carefully select our role models each year — for the community and for our teens,” Gellis said. “These honorees are not just anyone. They are the leaders we want to highlight for the next generation of LGBTQ Jews as well as allies. Many of our honorees are allies — some even without LGBTQ family members that they have any knowledge of. But they stood up as role models and helped us transform our community into a stronger and more inclusive space. Many of them went against the grain and encountered resistance. This is why the JQ Awards Brunch is so special to us. It’s not a regular Awards event that is just built to fundraise (not to knock fundraising — none of us non profits could do our work without fundraising!). But this event is really built around a fundamental and essential philosophy that guides our work.”
JQ has created programming and support services that ensure the healthy integration of LGBTQ and Jewish identities. They work with most Jewish institutions in Los Angeles.
“One day I hope we have enough funding to serve every Jewish organization in Los Angeles,” Gellis said. “Our teen programming creates an empowering environment for LGBTQ youth as well as their ally supporters. We guide rabbis, clergy, and the leaders of the Jewish community through community educational workshops and specialized inclusion training and consulting. We train speakers and young adult activists to be change makers, to be community organizers, and to realize their potential as activists working to make our Jewish community a stronger, healthier, and more inclusive space for everyone. We have pushed and supported policy change within our communities’ organizations.”
JQ International is considered the largest direct service LGBTQ and ally Jewish organization.
“We have gone well beyond just serving LGBTQ Jews,” Gellis said. “You are hard pressed to find a family that does not have an LGBTQ community member. We here to support the entire Jewish community at a time when we are all realizing the LGBTQ community is much bigger than ever perceived before. We are proud of the pioneering efforts our community has made and we are proud to be there to continue to support this work. We are also proud that JQ’s transformative and lifesaving work is being replicated not just in other cities but in other countries.”
On May 13th, JQ International will host its annual Iftar, where Jews and Muslin LGBTQ and allies come together to break bread. JQ International will also be hosting a Parents and Ally Community-Wide Panel on Sunday May 19 in West Hollywood from 1-3 p.m. and an Annual JQ Pride Shabbat on Friday, May 31 for 7-10 p.m. In June, the organization will host several Pride events, from a Shabbat to a parade brunch. For more information, visit the JQ International website.