TheForward, America’s leading Jewish newspaper, has selected several LGBTQ individuals for its list of the 50 most influential Jewish leaders of the year.
The “Forward 50” singles out newsworthy American Jews selected for their creativity, impact on society, and contributions to the Jewish community. The 2015 list includes more LGBTQ leaders than ever before.
The Forward began in the late 1800s as a Yiddish language daily. In its current English version, it has established itself as a progressive, forward-thinking news source for American Jews. The publication now sets an example for how the media can (and should) represent LGBTQ community.
Dan Friedman, managing editor of the Forward and overseer of the Forward 50, says that the large number of LGBTQ people who made this year’s list were not chosen for their sexualities or gender identities, but rather for their contribution to society.
“We don’t have any quotas or anything,” he says. “We just look for the people who are having an important impact in the national conversation.”
Some people on this year’s list were chosen specifically for contributions to the LGBTQ community, such as Evan Wolfson, an attorney. Wolfson founded and is president of Freedom to Marry, a nationwide same-sex marriage campaign. Among other notable accomplishments, he and his group helped gain support for marriage equality state by state before the Supreme Court’s June decision this year to legalize it.
Other LGBTQ individuals are included for their accomplishments in areas completely unrelated to LGBTQ issues. These gay and transgender people are celebrated for their social and professional work rather than for their connections to the LGBTQ community. The Forward is rejecting the popular media tendency to treat prominent LGBTQ individuals primarily for their sexual and gender identities.
“I think that’s a beautiful thing about where we are in late 2015,” Friedman says. “It just doesn’t really matter. There are people on the list who are LGBTQ, and that’s constitutive of their identity, but it’s not constitutive of their professional identity. … We don’t have to be in people’s bedrooms to consider them important professionally.”
The LGBTQ leaders singled out on the Forward 50 list include several transgender individuals. One is Tom Sosnik, whose coming-out video as a 13-year-old in Jewish day school became a viral Internet sensation. Another is Hari Nef, a transgender model in the high fashion world who is known for her advocacy of visibility for the transgender community.
The Forward has, by selecting individuals regardless of their sexualities and gender identities, set a precedent for publications nationwide. Rather than reducing LGBTQ figures to one aspect of their identity, the media must strive to see individuals as a sum of all of their intersecting identities and of all their accomplishments.
To view this year’s Forward 50 list, visit forward.com/series/forward-50. "

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