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Reform Rabbi Testifies for Equality in Utah State Legislature

Rabbi Schwartzman: "We know how it is to feel that you have to hide that true identity in public life in order to seek the same opportunities that others have. As such, we empathize with those who can still be denied equal participation in the workplace because of who they are."

Contact: Sean Thibault or Benny Witkovsky
202.387.2800 |

SALT LAKE CITY, UT., March 5, 2013 -- In support of S.B. 262, the Housing And Employment Antidiscrimination Amendments, Rabbi Ilana Schwartzman of Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City, UT presented the following testimony before the Utah State Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee:

“Thank you for allowing me to speak to you today. My name is Rabbi Ilana Schwartzman and I appear before you today as a rabbi at Congregation Kol Ami, the only Reform Jewish congregation here in Salt Lake City, and a member of the national Reform Jewish Movement, the largest segment of American Jewry, including 1.5 million Reform Jews, 900 congregations and 2000 rabbis throughout North America. I appreciate the opportunity to express strong support for S.B. 262, The Housing and Employment Antidiscrimination Amendments.

There is a core teaching shared by an array of faith traditions, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, that embodies why this legislation is so worthy of enactment. In the words of Genesis (1:27), "And God created humans in God's own image, in the image of God, God created them; male and female God created them." We must oppose discrimination against any individual, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people because the stamp of the Divine is imprinted on the souls of each and every one of us.

The Jewish peoples' lived experience only deepens our abhorrence of discrimination that is based on one's identity. Throughout history, we have been among the quintessential victims of group hatred, persecution, and discrimination. We know what it's like to be denied opportunities for jobs and access to housing because of our identity. We know how it is to feel that you have to hide that true identity in public life in order to seek the same opportunities that others have. As such, we empathize with those who can still be denied equal participation in the workplace because of who they are.

And it is clear that workplace and housing discrimination remains an everyday reality for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community throughout America. In 29 states, you can refuse to hire, not promote or fire someone legally just because they are gay. In 34 states, transgender people have no workplace protection whatsoever. In Utah, the problem is real. A recent study found that 47% of lesbian and gay Utahns, and 67% of transgender Utahns, experience workplace discrimination because of their sexuality or gender identity. And there is demonstrated wage inequity. For example, on average, men in same-sex couples in Utah earn $42,938 each year, significantly less than $56,569 for men in heterosexual relationships. These problems are compounded when LGBT people are denied access to affordable housing, or must fear losing their homes if their identity is discovered.

There are differing views about human sexuality within our diversity of faith traditions, but surely we can all agree that employment decisions should be based on merit. And surely we can agree that no one deserves to be denied housing or evicted from their homes because of who they are.

A Jewish perspective does not alone justify public policy that applies to Americans of different beliefs - and those of no faith beliefs. This legislation embodies core American values that are bedrocks of our country. What could be more fundamental than the idea that everyone, from a young person searching for their first home to an elderly couple transitioning into their last one, deserves a fair chance at putting a roof over their head? Moreover, the values of meritocracy and hard work have long governed the workplace in America. This bill ensures a level playing field and that all people are judged on their workplace performance and behavior -- not on the basis of personal characteristics like sexual orientation or gender identity. By exempting religious organizations, the bill also carefully guards the rights of religious employers. Finally, each time America has expanded protections for minorities- from African-Americans to religious minorities to women- we have not looked back. This is a central and proud aspect of our country's identity and forward march.

Our liturgy asks the profound question, "When will redemption come?" The answer is clear: "When we grant to every person the rights we claim for ourselves." Sometimes this is called the Golden Rule. I urge you to act to ensure that every American - gay and straight - is assured the same rights. To live up to the values of justice and equality on which our nation was founded, we must do no less. "

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