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Sha’ar Zahav has added its own special high holiday to the ritual calendar, Pride Shabbat, the shabbat before Gay Pride weekend. Tonight was my first experience of this tradition, and I was moved in a way that surprised me. More than 11 years after I came out, sitting in that room, I found myself lifted up in a way that I never thought possible in my former religious life: An evening celebrating the holiness of being queer.

One of the privileges of being gay after the 1960s is that we can choose from a range of meaningful gaynesses, from a very limited and narrow gayness, perhaps where it is nothing more nor less than a sexual desire, to an expansive and thorough-going gayness, where one’s sexuality infuses every other aspect of one’s life. The work and sacrifice and toil of our post-war pioneers in the 1950s and 1960s set the stage for a world within which we could work out a meaningful queerness for ourselves.

Although I have had personal experiences of the holiness of my sexual orientation, brief moments of awareness of connection and insight, I had never expected to experience it as a communal celebration. From the reading of the blessing on queer elders; to the Communal Remembrance where we mourn the countless queer people through history who have been oppressed, driven to madness and suicide, beaten, killed, massacred; from the Queer Amidah and the Pride Shabbat Hallel; to the Adon Olam sung to the tune of “I Will Survive”, I felt like I was in world I had never known was possible.

A part of me is sheepish that I’m not out and proud enough to stand free of such outside affirmations. But the religion I was raised in would never in a million years celebrate my or any one of its children’s queerness. And the fact is, like many gay men, I still have internalized homophobia and fears and self-hatred deep down. And I really do need to be seen and understood by others, not just myself. As the rabbi said tonight at the end of service, “It’s so much easier to do it together.”

Tonight with a couple hundred fellow queers and allies, I got to recite and feel for the very first time:

God of Oneness
infinite, eternal
How queer of You to have created anything at all.
God of queerness
in whom are united all separations
we stand before You now
queer ourselves
made of heaven and earth
day and night
female and male
together
all of us
within Your awesome oneness
(Siddur Sha’ar Zahav, pp. 269)

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