In November 2002, Jeff Lieberman and Franceil Maci founded Queer as Jews (QAJ), the organization that less then two years later would become JQ International. Back on that November day, Jeff and Franceil launched QAJ because they had observed that while the Los Angeles area boasted two LGBT synagogues, younger Jews weren’t attending either of them. Weeks later, QAJ joined the Workmen’s Circle to host a Wine and Cheese Evening. Attended by 27 people, the earliest advent of our JQ community officially sprang to life.
In May 2003, Asher Gellis (then the Regional Director of Hadassah’s Young Judea, now JQ’s Executive Director) joined in the action. Over the following year, the introduction of dynamic programming and simple marketing tools organically facilitated the organization’s growth from 50 members to 200.
As the organization really began to thrive, Jeff and Asher decided to find a new name that reflected their more comprehensive vision. In June 2004, they held a naming contest among existing members, won by Wylie Tene. With his suggestion, JQ was officially born. Within three months, JQ had its first Board of Directors, within five months California approved its incorporation, and within a year it became an IRS verified, tax-exempt organization under IRS tax code 501(c)(3). In October 2005, JQ was also verified by the California Franchise Tax Board to be Franchise and Income Tax Exempt under California tax code 23701d.
At the end of 2006, JQ initiated its first Advisory Committee in a commitment to continue to diversify its programs and services to create as vibrant a community as possible. In August 2007, JQ was rewarded for this commitment with a Cutting Edge Grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. This first-ever grant for JQ recognized the success of JQ’s communal strengthening and allowed for the opportunity to further professionalize, develop membership diversity, and commit to programming.
With the Passover celebration approaching, JQ debuted its GLBT Haggadah in April 2008. This two-year collaborative project between JQ and the Institute for Judaism & Sexual Orientation is the first-ever fully integrated Haggadah of its kind. Two months later, JQ launched its Inclusion Consulting program, offering Jewish institutions, clergy, and lay leaders guidance in serving and including LGBTQ Jews within the larger Jewish community. Four months after that, JQ held its first Shabbat Dinner, fostering a new space for members to gather in the spirit of Jewish tradition. It was the earliest gathering of what has now become the expanding JQ Community Table.
In March 2010, JQ members created the first Transgender Jewish Advocacy Committee, dedicated to increasing programming for the Trans Jewish community, as well as increasing education and advancing inclusion within all JQ activities and the Jewish community at large. Less than a year later, the 2wice Blessed Project sprang to life with the assistance of a Birthright Israel Foundation’s Natan/NEXT Grant for Social Entrepreneurs. This multi-platform digital experience highlights positive images and stories about and for the LGBTQ Jewish community from around the world.
In December 2011, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles invited JQ to become an inaugural member of its Community Partnership Program in recognition of JQ’s successful LGBTQ and ally programming. In May 2013, JQ partnered again with the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles to launch the inaugural LGBTQ & ally Taglit-Birthright Israel trip, the first of its kind.
JQ is the only trans-denominational Jewish organization to serve the LGBTQ community, and its socially and culturally relevant programs and services—based upon Jewish values and sensibilities—have reached more than 15,000 people to date. As JQ moves forward, it continues to build quality programming, facilitate educational opportunities, share resources, and promote a healthy fusion of LGBTQ and Jewish identities.