Just over five years ago, I moved to Richmond to become the rabbi of Temple Beth-El, one of the area’s oldest and largest Jewish congregations. Since I arrived, I’ve been committed to nurturing a more inclusive community, both within my congregation and beyond it.

This work is central to my ministry because one of the Jewish tradition’s most fundamental beliefs is that every human is made in God’s image, that every person has infinite dignity and equal value. Additionally, I am passionate about building a loving and just community because Jewish history reveals how unequal systems cause great pain and suffering, while inclusion and equality enable people to flourish.

So it deeply pains me that my LGBT congregants, along with our LGBT neighbors, friends and family throughout Virginia, are not protected from discrimination in their daily lives.

That’s why I’ve joined the Virginia Values coalition along with more than 140 other faith leaders. We’re calling for nondiscrimination protections for LGBT Virginians in employment, housing and public spaces. LGBT people are our friends, neighbors, family members and co-workers. We are all God’s children, and we all deserve to go about our daily lives without the fear of discrimination.

Under current Virginia law, LGBT people are not explicitly protected from discrimination, which means they can be fired, evicted or denied service in restaurants or stores. As faith leaders, we believe we must do everything in our power to ensure that Virginia is a safe and welcoming place for all people, including members of the LGBT community.

Our whole community suffers when our state lacks the vital protections to ensure that no one is fired from a job, denied housing or refused service simply because of who they are or who they love.

I grew up in a pretty religiously traditional setting in Atlanta. I went to an Orthodox Jewish day school and was affiliated with a Jewish denomination that, at the time, refused to ordain LGBT rabbis. Openly LGBT people were even forbidden from serving in leadership roles or working with children in my denomination.

Born and raised in this environment, I didn’t challenge it. And even when I started my rabbinic training in my 20s, I still held more conservative views on the subject, which were in line with what were, in those days, my denomination’s policies (the Jewish Conservative movement with which I am affiliated has since, thankfully, adopted more inclusive policies).

At the same time, a part of me always felt that my denomination’s policies toward LGBT people were inconsistent with my tradition’s core values of human dignity and equality, and our historical experience as an oppressed people.

That feeling grew as I met and befriended people in the LGBT community along my journey. These experiences and relationships helped me gain an awareness and understanding of the challenges LGBT people faced — struggles I never had to experience. I witnessed their pain as they were ostracized, excluded, belittled and discriminated against; as they were denied housing, jobs and career advancement because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

And I also witnessed the courage and activism of incredible people who were struggling for a place at the table. My wife’s brother, for example, has fought courageously, and at great personal cost, for LGBT inclusion in my Jewish denomination and in the state of Israel.

I am so proud that he and his husband are the first same-sex marriage recognized by the Jewish state, and that they have blazed a trail for other LGBT Israelis.

But seeing how hard it was for him, and for others, to secure the same rights and protections that folks like me have always taken for granted helped me move from inadvertently being part of the problem to trying to be part of the solution. I now strive to be a strong ally of LGBT people fighting for equality, and I invite all Virginians of conscience to join me in standing against unjust laws that allow for discrimination against LGBT people.

My faith calls me to treat all people with dignity and respect, and my people’s history teaches what happens when we fail to speak out against unjust laws. That’s why I am proud to call for comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for our LGBT neighbors and loved ones.

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Michael Knopf is the rabbi of Temple Beth-El in Richmond. He can be reached at rabbi.knopf@bethel

richmond.org.

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