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New LGBTQ Initiative Launches for Local Jewish Community

By Timothy Cwiek

Phoenix Schneider has a passion for creating a more just world, and says a new job is fulfilling that passion.

Schneider was recently hired as an LGBTQ program manager at Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia (JFCS).

Schneider noted the groundbreaking nature of the job.

“It’s believed that JFCS is the first and only mainstream Jewish organization in the Philadelphia area to hire someone to work solely on LGBTQ direct services.”

Schneider, who was hired in December, manages a newly created LGBTQ Initiative at JFCS.

The position is funded by a $40,000 grant from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, along with private donors.

Rabbi Elisa Goldberg, director of Jewish Community Services at JFCS, recognized the need for the LGBTQ Initiative, and advocated for its funding.

“Phoenix is opening all of our eyes to important issues,” Goldberg said. “Phoenix is definitely fierce. But Phoenix also has a gentleness that’s bringing allies to the cause. As a family-service agency, we believe it’s at the heart of our mission to support all types of families and individuals. We know that in order to be truly inclusive to the LGBTQ community, we need to have a dedicated staff person to educate ourselves, create partnerships and reach out to the community.”

Schneider said the Initiative reflects JFCS’ commitment to support the Jewish and non-Jewish LGBTQ communities.

“The LGBTQ Initiative is focused on identifying unmet community needs that will continually inform our program-development priorities. At this time, the three pillars of the LGBTQ Initiative are direct-service programs; education and training for LGBTQ inclusion, sensitivity and cultural competency; and community engagement.”

Schneider said the Initiative’s aims are varied and wide-ranging.

“Some of the core components of the LGBT Initiative include facilitating LGBTQ sensitivity trainings; coordinating efforts among local Jewish agencies that seek to improve their capacity to serve the LGBTQ community; developing innovative programming to support LGBTQ individuals and their families; and organizing public events for folks to come together and celebrate their multiple identities. In the near future, the LGBTQ Initiative will launch a speakers bureau that will go into synagogues and schools, among other venues.”

Schneider also coordinates a consortium of local Jewish agencies that endeavors to serve the community more effectively.

Members of the consortium include Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, Spectrum Philly, Jewish Learning Venture, Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, Jewish Employment Vocational Services, Abramson Center and InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia.

Schneider self-identifies as trans, queer and Jewish.

Schneider holds a master’s degree in social work and was previously employed in Los Angeles as program director at The Trevor Project, a suicide-prevention organization for LGBTQ youth.

Schneider moved back to the area last year to be close to family and was “elated” when the position at JFCS opened up.

“My lifelong passion has been to advocate for the community. So I love my job. There are so many things to do in a day. I try to prioritize and structure my days, so I can make the best use of my time.”

Schneider said the Initiative seeks to ensure that all local Jewish institutions are truly welcoming to the community.

“It’s one thing to say you’re a welcoming institution. It’s another to truly reflect that, and to have LGBT representation in staff, published materials and programming.”

Schneider also emphasized the importance of LGBTQ-inclusive language.

“It’s vital to have LGBTQ-inclusive language in intake forms, employment applications, brochures, fliers and other means of communication. Anything that goes out to the public should contain LGBTQ-inclusive language and representation. Verbal expressions are also important. It can be something as simple as a rabbi avoiding the phrase ‘ladies and gentlemen’ when addressing a congregation, because that excludes folks who don’t identify as male or female. When I address a group, I just say, ‘Welcome, fabulous people.’”

The Initiative seeks to engage with the larger community, Schneider added.

The Initiative staffed a table at the May 19 commemoration of Israel Independence Day, and will have a presence at the local June 8 Pride Parade and Festival.

Additionally, Schneider is co-organizing a Shabbat Dinner 5:45 p.m. June 13 at United Arch Street Methodist Church, to be held in conjunction with the Philly Trans-Health Conference. Co-organizers include LGBTQ advocate Shelley Rosenberg and Keshet, a national Jewish organization serving the LGBTQ community.

“It’s an honor to work alongside so many great leaders and organizations united to make a difference in the lives of LGBTQ individuals and families,” Schneider said.