In keeping with its teaching philosophy that “we are all created in the image of the divine,” Temple Shalom in Aberdeen will sponsor a program centered on issues in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.
The program, on Monday, Dec. 15, is aimed at eighth- to 10th-graders in the synagogue’s school and their parents, but is open to the general public.
It will feature Andrea Bowen, executive director of Garden State Equality, a statewide advocacy organization for the LGBT community, and Louise Walpin and Marsha Shapiro, a lesbian couple from Monmouth Junction who were founding members of the NJ Lesbian and Gay Havurah and among seven couples whose lawsuit resulted in last year’s decision by the NJ Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage. After being in a longtime civil union, the couple was legally married in New Jersey after passage of the law.
Temple Shalom schools director Cindy Terebush said the idea for the program came from past congregation president Sharon Steinhorn of Marlboro, who has been involved with the gay community since her own son came out 30 years ago.
“When he came out there was AIDS, and it was a very big deal,” said Steinhorn. “Over the last 30 years I’ve become used to people coming out and am very comfortable in the gay community. Yet recently I’ve become aware of some people in the community who have had some issues, so it’s still a burning issue in the world.”
Steinhorn described the temple as “a close-knit community.”
“Those struggling with transgender, lesbian, or gay issues deserve to know they have a community of support behind them,” she said.
In the first hour of the program, students, their parents, and interested community members will focus on the challenges faced by the LGBT community and the Reform movement’s inclusive position on LGBT issues. The second hour will be directed at the teens.
“We are accepting and inclusive…,” Terebush said. “We are a place where these teenagers can come and talk to us about who they are.”
Terebush said there have been students who are members of the LGBT community at the temple school who found it to be a nurturing environment.
“We try hard to be models as staff leaders, and the temple community really stresses that we were all created in the divine image, and therefore we don’t discriminate,” she said. “Some of these students have had issues in their secular schools and need to talk about it, and we are honored and privileged we are a place where they feel so safe.”
Bowen, one of the first openly transgender executive directors of a statewide organization for LGBT civil rights, told NJJN she would speak about her own transition and how she became involved with Garden State Equality.
She has fought for the rights of the homeless and organized labor but has honed in on struggles in the transgender world. Bowen is currently working with several school districts in the state to help make school systems free of harassment, intimidation, and bullying.
Bowen said there are many different ways to transition, including surgeries or hormone treatment. She is currently advocating for mandatory heath insurance coverage of treatments. She said she will also discuss efforts to have state legislation passed allowing transgender people to legally have their gender changed on their birth certificates regardless of whether or not they have had surgery.
“I didn’t have any surgery, and many don’t for a variety of reasons: They don’t have money, their insurance won’t cover it, or it’s medically unadvised,” said Bowen. “Some don’t want it. The medical treatment everyone gets to transition is very individualized.”