Keshet Leadership Project

From Visitor Services Coordinator Talia Makowsky. To read more posts from Talia, click here.


On December 5th Marvin, Trillion, and myself attended the Keshet Leadership Project Summit for the Greater Baltimore Area. This day-long gathering marked the start of a year of committing to actions that will make the Jewish Museum of Maryland a more welcoming place for people within the LGBTQ+ community.

The acronym LGBTQ+ stands for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, plus”. The plus sign includes more gender identities and sexual orientations, such as non-binary, intersex, pansexual, and more. Keshet provided their own definitions of these terms, but there are many credible sources that help define what these words mean. The National LGBT Health Education Center has a particularly comprehensive list of terms to help those who are new to the language of the LGBTQ+ community. However, our Keshet facilitator emphasized that even though we have these terms that people may identify with or find comfort in using, every single person has a different life experience. Even if two people both identify as transgender, they may have very different ways of expressing this identity or make different life decisions regarding this identity.

Keshet is a national organization that does education, programming, and advocacy, all to advance their mission:

Keshet works for the full equality of all LGBTQ Jews and our families in Jewish life. We strengthen Jewish communities. We equip Jewish organizations with the skills and knowledge to build LGBTQ-affirming communities, create spaces in which all queer Jewish youth feel seen and valued, and advance LGBTQ rights nationwide.

This work includes LGBTQ teen gatherings or Shabbaton so that young queer people can gather together and find community. Keshet also works to advance particular campaigns, as they advocate for the rights of LGBTQ people. One of their biggest endeavors is the Keshet Leadership Project, which is what we kicked off on that Thursday.

The Keshet Leadership Project is an opportunity for a cohort of organizations to meet and come up with action plans for their sites. Through tools and training from the Keshet team, each organization is tasked to come up with at least three goals, in the areas of policy, programming, and culture. Throughout the year, a Keshet staff member will act as our coach, answering questions and giving us guidance and encouragement as we work to accomplish our action plan. This plan is created at the Keshet Project Leadership Summit, which all the organizations attend through their representatives. By meeting together, the representatives form a cohort together, laying the groundwork for partnerships and community programs. Working in a cohort has other benefits, as studies suggest that a group working towards a common goal is more likely to accomplish their mission.

Here in Baltimore, we are lucky enough to be a part of the Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore. The Associated engaged with Keshet to bring the Leadership Project to our region, and helped advertise the program to its related organizations, including the Museum. The project attracted fifteen organizations in all, who came together to learn about the LGBTQ community, why Keshet is doing this work, and to create their own goals to accomplish over this year.

During our discussion on LGBTQ terms, we touched on how to introduce and ask for people’s personal pronouns and why it’s important. You can find my pronouns in my email signature and on my name badge.

Once we found a shared language and understanding of these terms, our Keshet facilitator led us in a discussion of why this work is so important. She shared facts from a Vice article about Gen Z, or those born in the mid-nineties to the early 2000s, and how a majority do not consider themselves “completely heterosexual.” Furthermore, as the article reports, Gen Z are generally supportive of more trans-inclusive public spaces, as 70% say that these spaces should have gender-neutral restrooms for folks.

I wasn’t too surprised with these results, but what I found more compelling was the discussion on older LGBTQ people. There are about 3 million people over the age of 55 who are part of the LGBTQ community, according to a resource created by Sage, Advocacy for & Services for LGBT Elders. That number is expected to rise, possibly doubling by 2030. Not only is this a huge audience that is often forgotten or ignored in these types of conversations, but this group has experienced the most trauma and violence throughout their lives. It’s thanks to the determination of the older generation that younger LGBTQ people have more resources to support them today.

I found this part of the discussion most provoking, as I often interact with people over the age of 55 at the Museum. I wonder if any of our regulars are part of the LGBTQ community. I wonder if there are people who have chosen not to be a Museum patron, because we haven’t made LGTBQ inclusion a priority in the past. Armed with this new information, I hope that I can help connect more LGBTQ older people to the Museum and find ways to make them feel a part of the whole Museum community.

The last part of our day was spent working on our organizational action plans. Keshet gave us examples of other goals that organizations have accomplished, as a part of their Leadership Projects, such as creating an “LGBT Aging with Pride” monthly social meeting, or a Community LGBTQIA Passover Seder, which attracted people beyond the Jewish community, resulting in a successful interfaith program.

With direction from Marvin, Trillion and I worked on the first draft of our action plan for the Jewish Museum. Keshet asked us to come up with at least one goal in three areas, programming, policy, and culture. With these three or more goals, our Keshet coach will be on call to help us advance our action plan throughout the next, or more. We’re looking forward to sharing the results of this action plan with our Museum community!

One way we plan to make the JMM more welcoming is by modifying our signage. This example from the Jewish Museum in New York is an easy way to communicate that the bathrooms are for everyone to use.

By the end of the day, all of us were buzzing with inspiration and excitement. It was clear from the energy in the room that the Baltimore Jewish community was ready to create real change and find authentic ways to make LGBTQ feel supported and welcome. While Keshet does not require the cohort to meet again in person, people were already talking about finding a time to gather again, with the help of DFI. Our Keshet facilitators were excited by this prospect and expressed their confidence in us to accomplish our goals. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of this important project and eager to bring the knowledge and resources to the wider Jewish Museum of Maryland community.

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