By Bennett Decker
President Joe Biden’s inauguration and messages of a new start through unity couldn’t have come at a better time, as Jewish Americans recently observed Tu B’Shevat, when trees come out of dormancy and begin blossoming with new life and fruit.
With a message of renewal, Tu B’Shevat carries heightened significance to LGBTQ people, especially now, with a pro-equality presidency and majority in Congress. With the U.S. Senate now evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, and Vice President Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote, LGBTQ Americans have rekindled hope for the unfulfilled dream of equality under the law.
Sen. Chuck Schumer took the mantle of majority leader on Jan. 20 — the first Jewish American to fill that role. Schumer has been a devoted champion of the LGBTQ community, embodying the great example of tikkun olam that lives in the heart of what it means to be Jewish.
The Torah likens a human being to “a tree of the field” (Deuteronomy 20:19). Just as a tree has an unseen vigor that leads it to break bud and develop new leaves, so do we as God’s children. This vigor is planted within us to renew ourselves to create a better world. Repairing the world starts with leading by example and putting the needs of others front and center.
In his first day in office, President Biden directed heads of federal agencies to implement the decision in Bostock v. Clayton County issued by the U.S. Supreme Court last summer. This means that the landmark ruling will apply to every federal agency’s enforcement of federal laws that prohibit sex discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment. The implications are broad, and could affect housing, credit, education, and more.
While the executive order is a critical step forward, more needs to be done to ensure these protections last beyond one administration.
As new Senate majority leader, Schumer must rise to the occasion and prioritize passage of comprehensive federal nondiscrimination legislation codifying protections for LGBTQ people. This would bring our country closer to America’s promise of freedom for all.
The United States is ready for these protections. A recent PRRI survey shows that 83% of Americans, including 80% of Jewish Americans, support passing LGBTQ nondiscrimination legislation like the Equality Act. Majority support holds across party lines — 94% of Democrats, 85% of independents and 68% of Republicans. Even mainstream Jewish institutions — including the Union of Reform Judaism, Central Conference of American Rabbis, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association and others — have taken a public stance in support of bipartisan nondiscrimination legislation like the Equality Act.
Our Jewish values necessitate that we support full equality for LGBTQ Americans. I’m urging Senate Majority Leader Schumer to demonstrate bold leadership and renew his commitment to finally delivering landmark legislation that would protect all Americans. Everyone should be able to build a life free from discrimination, and federal nondiscrimination protections are the missing piece for LGBTQ people. It’s time to take action.
Bennett Decker, a recent graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University, grew up in Elkins Park. He is a board member of Keshet and works for T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.