It could have been me. I could have retreated to the safe space of a gay bar or club in order to dance with a man, to hold his hand, to kiss him in safety. One of my safe havens, a safe space for LGBT people like me, has come under attack. My lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender brothers and sisters have been killed. And it could have been me.
It could have been me. Through adolescence, through dealing with my own internalized homophobia, I came to grips with the shame and disgust I had for my own desires, the shame and disgust that our society has carefully taught me: this could have made me full of self-loathing. But through the love and support of family and friends, I was able to overcome that shame. I was lucky, because it could have been me who hated myself and those like me so much that I would choose the outlet of violent rage. Our society caused this. Homophobia caused this. Presumed heterosexuality caused this. The taunting of boys and shame over our bodies and our desires caused this.
It could have been me. I was raised in the Conservative Movement of Judaism at a time when LGBT people were not allowed to be rabbis, cantors, or youth leaders, the very people I was trained to look up to. I had the freedom and the confidence to leave the movement that at that time I thought didn't want me. It was because of an LGBT-Jewish organization, when I first sat at a Shabbat table with 100 other queer Jews, in a safe Jewish space, banging on the table on Friday night, joyfully singing Shabbat zemirot, that I came to terms with being gay and Jewish. Now, my sexuality and my faith are inextricably intertwined, strengthening one another. Still, it could have been me.
It could have been me; but it wasn't. I was one of the lucky ones. I met people in my faith community who loved and accepted me for who I am. I eventually became a Reconstructionist rabbi, and have the honor of serving the good people at Congregation Beth Tikvah (a wonderful and affirming Conservative congregation in Marlton, NJ), and more broadly, South Jersey, and even more broadly, K'lal Yisrael, the entirety of the Jewish People. It was love that conquered my own shame, disgust, and the societal messages I had internalized. It could have been me.
It could have been me, but know this: I will go back to the bar, back to the club, back to Pride, and back to my shul. I am driven to be more out as gay in the Jewish community, and more out as a person of faith, even as a rabbi, in the gay community. This is a first step. I want to daven harder and hold hands more publicly. I want to study Torah and queer theory more deeply and more often. Even more so, I want to lead, and lead by example. Because it could also be you, or your kids, or your grandkids.
The hatred has got to stop. It could have been me who died in that club. My people have died. Zikhronam livrachah: let's make their memories an enduring blessing. Let us take action now to end this hatred and bring about a time when violence, hostility, and bigotry cease. Ken yehi ratzon; may it be God's will.
Rabbi Nathan Weiner is a 2016 graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. He is the rabbi and education director of Congregation Beth Tikvah in Marlton, NJ. Rabbi Nathan has previously served at the Executive Director of NUJLS, the National Union of Jewish LGBTIQQ Students.