7 LGBTQ+ Jews of Color You Should Know
Pride is more than just a month.
Every June we celebrate Pride Month, the nationally recognized time to honor the history and experiences of the LGBTQ+ community and the activism that has helped secure rights for every American regardless of their sexuality or gender expression.
Though today is the last day of Pride Month, we are reminded that the promotion of self-affirmation, dignity, equality, and increased visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) people can’t solely be relegated to 30 days each year. Though we have come a long way since the first Pride march 50 years ago, we know we still have a long way to go. As long as we are a community that exists at the intersections of gender, sexuality, race, economic status, ability, and interfaith identity and strive to be a community that celebrates all the selves we each bring to the table, we must remember that we should also celebrate Pride every day.
While you may already be familiar with some of the JOC LGBTQ+ folks we’ve featured on our blog in the past, like chef and food historian Michael Twitty, singer Anthony Russell, and Rabbis Sandra Lawson and Isaama Stoll, the list of people to know doesn’t end there.
Here are some talented people to add to your feed, whose work you should follow today and throughout the year. They represent an array of Jewish experience and racial/ethnic backgrounds, as well as the dynamic range of LGBTQ+ identity in America today.
After moving to NY at age 17, Chella Man became the first transgender Deaf person to sign with IMG Models. In his 2019 TedX Talk, Man discusses his journey of self-empowerment and affirmation while highlighting the power of learning the correct terminology to describe oneself authentically. After proving his talents in the visual arts and helping to push the fashion industry forward on the cause of diversity and inclusion, Man has recently begun to branch out into acting and will play Jericho in the DC Comics TV show “Titans.” When asked about the role of Jericho by Huffington Post, Man said: “Casting disabled actors/actresses for disabled roles will aid to authentically represent and deconstruct stereotypes built around our identities…Take it from a Deaf, queer, Jewish person of color who has always dreamed of being a superhero and has now been granted that exact opportunity.”
Chanda Prescod-Weinstein holds the distinction of being the 63rd Black woman in American history with a physics Ph.D. According to her website, Prescod-Weinstein’s “driving impulse [is to] understand the origin of spacetime and the particles that populate it.” A theoretical physicist specializing in early universe cosmology, Prescod-Weinstein also blogs on Medium about a range of topics, including science, writing, race, gender and identity. Recognizing the importance of diversity in science, Prescod-Weinstein has devoted much of her attention to ensuring equitable opportunities for everyone to participate in science and has worked hard to promote Black physicists as well as other underrepresented minorities. Prescod-Weinstein identifies as queer and agender and was a founding member of the American Astronomical Society Committee for Sexual-Orientation and Gender Minorities in Astronomy (SGMA).
A former Alvin Ailey dancer, McKinney now uses dance to heal through the arts and dialogue. A co-founder of the award-winning arts and service organization DNAWORKS, McKinney has led dance work across the U.S. and in countries around the world, including Benin, Canada, England, Ghana, Hungary, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Palestine, Poland, Rwanda, Serbia, Spain and South Africa. Using innovative techniques, DNAWORKS creates dance, theater, and film to promote dialogue-based social justice action and community building. One of their signature projects, HaMapah/The Map, is a multimedia, genealogical dance journey that traces the intersections of McKinney’s African American, Native American, and Jewish heritages. HaMapah/The Map weaves contemporary dance with archival material, personal interviews, Yiddish and American songs, and video set to traditional, contemporary, and classical music.
Political strategist and policy advisor
Raffi Freedman-Gurspan is a talented rising political strategist who has spent nearly a decade in progressive politics. Currently, Freedman-Gurspan serves as the Deputy Director for the All on the Line campaign, a public advocacy campaign committed to ending partisan gerrymandering and creating fair district maps. A Latina transgender Jewish woman, Freedman-Gurspan first made national headlines in 2015 when she was made Outreach and Recruitment Director for Presidential Personnel in the Obama administration, becoming the first openly transgender staff member in history to serve in the White House. Leveraging her platform, Raffi is a dynamic public speaker who has worked continuously since high school on human rights issues, including LGBT matters. Raffi was adopted from Honduras and grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Matthew Nouriel aka The Empress
Matthew Nouriel grew up between London and Los Angeles in an Iranian Jewish family. Coming of age in Los Angeles as a teenager, Nouriel started frequenting gay clubs where he discovered an interest in drag. “It was the 90’s and there were no other Iranian queer people that I knew of to look up to so I had to navigate it on my own.” Today Nouriel performs under his drag persona The Empress and has a dynamic instagram account that features stunning pictorials as well as engaging make up tutorials. On his way to finding himself and an outlet for self-expression, Nouriel notes that though he has faced challenges in navigating how to live authentically in his “gender expression/identity and my sexual orientation within the Iranian Jewish community,” what he is most proud of are the chances he gets to share his experience with broader audiences through speaker panels and giving speeches about his experiences as a gender non-conforming queer Iranian Jew. In an interview with the Jewish Journal, Nouriel reflected upon his Jewish identity: “We’re a culture, we’re a people of survival and that feeds into my experiences as a queer person, for sure. I’m a survivor.”
This talented singer-songwriter started performing publicly when she was only in high school in 2010. Over the last decade, Blue has seen significant success live and online. Recently she has pushed to take charge of her own style. Part of that shift included a name change, as she explained in a Hey Alma interview: “As I become more aware and more proud of who I am, an introverted bisexual Mexican Jew who is at her heart a songwriter first, I am empowered to respectfully and gratefully step away from Alex G, and into Alex Blue.” For Blue, being Jewish and being queer overlap and come together easily. Originally from Colorado, Blue lives with her wife Torri in Nashville, where she has been working on her newest album, Noise. Noise was recorded during quarantine and is “a tribute to the last 10 years as Alex G and a welcoming of new things to come.” This might just be the thing that gets us through what is to come.
Carmel Ayala Tanaka is the founder of JQT Vancouver, a Canadian Jewish queer and trans group. Among other projects, JQT Vancouver (@jqtvan) is currently interviewing older Jewish Priders for “On The Record: The BC Jewish Queer & Trans Oral History Project.” JQT just wrapped up their Jewish *Queer Trans* Heritage Month virtual showcase series, featuring drag, hip-hop, opera and poetry by local and international Jewish queer and trans artists. Tanaka, who has Ashkenazi Israeli and Japanese heritage, is also a talented chef who enjoys blending different parts of her identity in the kitchen, as illustrated by her recipe for Matcha cheesecake for Shavuot. She recently started an online community for other “Jewpanese” around the world and organizes Vancouver’s Cross Cultural Walking Tours (@crossculturaltours). For Tanaka, “Pride isn’t a day or a week or a month; it is 365 days of the year! I want to create safe space to celebrate all of one’s identities—visible and invisible—and I do so with a whole lot of pride, color, chutzpah, umami and a dash of maple syrup!”