Last night marked a historic occasion for the Jewish Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community, writes Sophie Eastaugh, with the launch of Rainbow Jews, Britain’s first ever oral history archive of Jewish LGBT history hosted by Liberal Judaism chief executive Danny Rich.

Rainbow Jews Launch

Over 200 people attended the launch. Photo credit: Blanka Horakova.

Stephen Fry got behind the landmark event, urging his 6.5 million Twitter followers to “show your support” for the pioneering research project that amassed 40 personal testimonies from British LGBT Jews, exploring the struggles, changes and issues experienced by the community from the 1950s to today.

Hosted by Liberal Judaism and supported by National Lottery Heritage funding, a packed auditorium at London School of Economics gathered for the exhibition’s launch.

The evening kicked off with a film screening of moving personal interviews, followed by a Q&A session with Project Manager Surat Knan, film producer Searle Kochberg, Rabbi Mark Solomon and Professor Catherine Harper of the University of Portsmouth, which supported the research.

Danny Rich, CEO of Liberal Judaism said, “We believe it’s a matter of prophetic justice that the voices of a community within our own community, which have not been heard, are articulated and recorded. We’re honoured and privileged to be associated with the event.”

The exhibition explores the intersection of Jewish and LGBT identities through a truly diverse collection of personal testimonies that include the voices of Ultra-Orthodox lesbians, bisexual rabbis, gay Holocaust survivors and transgender activists.

On display throughout February for LGBT history month, the project brings together photographs, stories and audio-visual recordings to document the way that LGBT Jewish people have shaped British culture from the 1950s to today. The collection also celebrates the progress achieved by LGBT members within the Jewish community and society as a whole.

For Project Manager Surat Knan, who first conceived of the idea eight years ago, the visibility of the Jewish LGBT community is the biggest milestone. “Even 20 years ago, this was a community that nobody had even heard of. There was no identity, there was no story. But now, we’ve got groups, we’ve got support systems, we’re not getting prosecuted.”

“We’re a part of the LGBT community, we’re a part of the Jewish community and we’re a part of British society. That definitely is a big, big change.”

Guest speakers at the launch included notable political campaigner and LGBT activist Peter Tatchell. The auditorium sang Happy Birthday to Rabbi Lionel Blue, who was sadly unable to attend due to health reasons while singing from the Tav Rishon choir added to the jubilant atmosphere and Edinburgh Fringe comedy bard Daniel Cainer performed an ad-hoc Rainbow Jews anthem.

Peter Tatchell commented, “Jewish LGBT people are part of the proud spectrum of LGBT life. It’s often not sufficiently acknowledged within the Jewish community the contribution that LGBT Jewish people make. It’s been very encouraging the way in which the Liberal & Reform Jewish communities have embraced LGBT equality and supported the right of same-sex couples to marry.

“The struggle for LGBT equality has been a long one which was trail-blazed by many heroic pioneers in the late 1950s and 1960s. In very difficult circumstances, they dared to demand an end to the discrimination. Half a century later, we’re now almost there.”

The exhibition features a variety of innovative activities including an LGBT History Soho tour with a Jewish twist. Resources will be available both online, in partnering archives and as part of a travelling exhibition.

The exhibition will be open throughout February 2014, for LGBT History Month, Monday – Friday, 10am-8pm and you can find all the latest information at http://www.rainbowjews.com/.