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Preparing for the World Conference of GLBT Jews

The organizers of the World Conference of GLBT Jews in Winnipeg this summer (July 5-7, 2013), have lined up a top-flight array of speakers, including the transgender memoirist and poet Joy Ladin and Jay Michaelson; The 21st annual conference organizers, World Congress of GLBT Jews, consists of around 50 member organizations, including A Wider Bridge.

With the debate about same-sex marriage in the U.S. making headlines this month, one Jewish community in a midsize Canadian city is getting set to welcome the World Conference of GLBT Jews this summer. From July 5-7, gay, lesbian and transgender Jews and their supporters will gather in Winnipeg to discuss current issues connected to holding those dual identities.

By coincidence, Winnipeg is one of my two hometowns, and I am keenly aware of the apparent tension between tradition and progressiveness that represents the city of 680,000, including 12,000 Jews. A longstanding tight-knit, geographically isolated Jewish community with a strong commitment to Jewish institutional expressions, Jewish literacy, and Jewish continuity, an atmosphere like that can pose particular challenges for those who perceive themselves as different.

Arthur Blankstein, co-chair of the conference, is now 68, and didn’t come out as a gay man until his 50s: “I never denied who I was, but I never admitted who I was,” Blankstein told me. In 2004, as same-sex marriage became legal across Canada, Blankstein married his partner in a civil ceremony. Two years later, Blankstein’s husband Ken converted to Judaism. A year ago, they married again, this time marking their union as the first synagogue-based, same-sex Jewish wedding in Winnipeg. Their ketubah is now part of the collection of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

The conference organizers have lined up a top-flight array of speakers, including the transgender memoirist and poet Joy Ladin, who I interviewed last fall in these pages, and Jay Michaelson (in the photo below). Founder of Nehirim and author of five books, most recently God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality, Michaelson spoke to me this week by phone.

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