Jewish organizations more LGBT-friendly than Fortune 1,000 companies

November 13, 2012

By Rutie Zuta

Haaaretz Logo

The Jewish community scores high for inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people but there is still significant room for improvement, according to a survey released on Monday by the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT civil rights organization in the United States. This was HRC’s first-ever index of LGBT inclusion within a faith-based community and the nonprofit sector.

Image of Idit Klein smiling at the camera.

The Jewish Organization Equality Index provides information on LGBT diversity and inclusion policies and practices of North American Jewish communal organizations, from national umbrella and advocacy groups to local nonprofits and synagogues.

The report, which was initiated by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, aims to push the Jewish community to prioritize inclusion of LGBT employees, members and volunteers into communal organizations. The survey’s supporters have joined with Keshet, the U.S. national organization advocating for full inclusion and equality of LGBT Jews in Jewish life.

The survey looked into the way communities include LGBT people in their use of language and images, membership options for LGBT families, and partnerships with local and national LGBT groups.

Over 200 organizations participated in the survey, representing 26 states across the U.S. and the District of Columbia, as well as Canada. They represented a range of denominations, though no survey submissions were received from any Orthodox institutions. Jewish community centers, Jewish federations and Hillel Jewish campus organizations were among those with the highest rates of participation.

Image of a rainbow LGBT flag with Hebrew writing on it in a large crowd of people.

Ninety percent of the 204 organizations that participated in the survey responded that they included in their publicity materials one or more inclusive terms, such as significant other; partner; sexual orientation; gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender, and “parent 1/parent 2” or “guardian 1/guardian 2” instead of “mother/father.”

Fifty percent of the organizations that participated achieved the survey’s highest rating of “inclusion,” meaning they are making significant efforts to welcome LGBT individuals and families.

By contrast, the first year of HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, which rates Fortune 1000 companies on inclusion for LGBT employees, only 13 organizations of the 319 rated – or 4 percent – received the highest score.

Twenty-seven percent of the Jewish organizations surveyed received the next highest rating of “adaptation.” The final two categories, “exploration” and “contemplation,” received 13 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

In addition, the survey found that 98 percent of participating membership-based organizations offer same-sex couples family memberships and 90 percent of the organizations make use of inclusive terms in their publicity materials. Some 91 percent of the respondents provided mourning (shiva) leave as an employee benefit and of those, 99 percent allow leave for a same-sex partner.

Alongside the encouraging findings, the survey found that there is still much room for improvement, especially in the areas of recruitment and training. Of the participating organizations, 79 percent of participants expressed they have not targeted the LGBT community in workplace recruitment efforts, and 59 percent have not completed any diversity or inclusion training in the past three years. In addition, 75 percent of the organizations have not specifically recruited LGBT individuals to their lay leadership board in the past three years.

“It’s a start, an exciting and important start. As a Jew and as a Jewish community leader, I expect more, we should be at the forefront of the civil rights movement,” said Idit Klein, Keshet executive director.

“Change is happening in the Orthodox world, too,” Klein told Haaretz on Monday. “It’s happening behind the scenes, in one-on-one situations that make an impact.”