01/26/2011 02:16 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Creating a Jewish Equality Index

Mirroring the old saying about what's most important in real estate, the three most important themes in the national conversation right now are jobs, jobs and jobs. This is particularly true for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Anyone can be fired for their sexual orientation in 29 states, or for their gender identity or expression in 38 states. Although LGBT people have enjoyed increased protections among the largest employers and in certain states over the last decade, the vast majority of LGBT employees remain unprotected.

I'm proud of the work the HRC Foundation has done over the years to not only track and analyze policies in the corporate sector but also to improve the lives of LGBT people by partnering with companies to extend equitable benefits. However, information on current practices at non-profit organization is largely unavailable and likely to reveal a strong need for education in workplaces on the organizational benefits that flow from treating LGBT employees fairly.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation announced this week we will begin an effort to investigate the existing workplace policies for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees at Jewish non-profit organizations. The work, an expansion of HRC's workplace equality project, is supported by a generous lead grant from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and supporting grants from The Morningstar Foundation, Stuart S. Kurlander--a leader in several non-profit Jewish and Jewish LGBT community organizations--and an anonymous donor.

Together, we and our partners share a vision of a work environment that provides every employee with the opportunity to achieve their full potential - in policy and in practice. This collaborative partnership will expand the conversation about equality for LGBT people to the communities these organizations serve and to religious communities more broadly about their role in making fairness and equality a reality for all.

Adam Simon, the Associate National Director at the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, recently had this to share about their thoughts on, and expectations for, the project:

Last month, the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell was celebrated by millions across the country and around the world who believe that sexual orientation ought not to have bearing on whether you can serve and sacrifice for the country you love.

We at the Schusterman Family Foundation stood with those who welcomed this shift in direction for our country as it demonstrated that our nation is taking steps toward advancing openness and inclusivity of the LGBT community whose rich diversity strengthens the tapestry of interwoven identities embodying what it means to be an American.

Even more, the repeal of DADT offered proof that entrenched institutions can recognize the fallacy of previous decisions, change course and announce loudly and proudly that who you love should not limit what you do with your life.

Last summer, Lynn Schusterman called on Jewish organizations to join our Foundation in adopting non-discrimination hiring policies that specifically mention sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. She also challenged donors to join us in holding organizations accountable for doing so by making such policies a prerequisite for funding.

The call was met with heartfelt gratitude from LGBT individuals around the world, many of whom who were full of hope that the day would soon come when they would no longer have to live in fear of losing their jobs or sacrificing their sense of belonging within the Jewish community because of who they love.
Today, we are upping the ante on that call with a concrete next step to help organizations make these changes.

Together with The Morningstar Foundation, philanthropist Stuart Kurlander and an anonymous foundation, we are announcing the creation of a Jewish Community Equality Index, to be established and implemented by the Human Rights Campaign, as an expansion of HRC's renowned workplace equality project index. Learn more about HRC's Workplace Equality Project.

The index will survey and publicize information about the LGBT inclusivity practices and policies of up to 500 Jewish community organizations around the country. Perhaps most importantly, before that information is made public, each of the organizations surveyed will have the opportunity--and be provided with the help and support--to make their policies, programs, forms, PR materials, welcome packets, educator training and more, consistent with the message that the Jewish community is welcoming and inclusive of all those who seek to lead actively Jewish lives. That educational effort in the near term and the long term will be supported by Keshet's nationally recognized educator training program.

Why push this further? Because there are hundreds of thousands of Jewish LGBT individuals who continue to feel marginalized, excluded or invisible within our community. Because we at our foundation are fighting alongside countless others to ensure that all Jews feel they have pride of place in the Jewish community. And because we believe that our community and, in turn, our nation benefits from every source of Jewish vitality and strength, including the creativity and vibrancy of LGBT Jews. A diverse Jewish community is a stronger, more robust Jewish community.

We know these changes will be hard to implement as our community grapples with what it means to alter entrenched policies and practices in dramatic and, perhaps for some, uncomfortable ways. But it is possible. We make it possible, by each of us committing to being part of a community that values how we love, not who we love.

You can join in this effort by talking about it with your friends, family and colleagues; by asking your synagogues, JCCs, Federations and other organizations about their policies and practices; and most importantly, by ensuring that all LGBT individuals know they are welcome in your home and as part of our community.