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N.C.'s Rabbi Guttman a Staunch LGBTQ Advocate

By Director of Faith Outreach Brent Childers on 07/25/2017 @ 02:28 PM

Jewish faith community leaders in North Carolina have been at the forefront of efforts to make full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals a reality. One of those leaders, Rabbi Fred Guttman of Greensboro, is proud of the role his congregation at Temple Emanuel has played and is playing in the LGBTQ Civil Rights Movement.

Guttman, who has served the congregation at Temple Emanuel for 22 years, cites an example from North Carolina’s 2012 Amendment One – a law that temporarily banned marriage equality – as a historic moment for both his congregation and himself. His congregation had adopted only one resolution under his leadership and that was in 2005 with a resolution to support sanctions against Iran – aimed at thwarting efforts by the country to obtain nuclear weapons.

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Rabbi Fred Guttman of Temple Emanuel in Greensboro is pictured with his daughter Maital and his mother Reta, who is holding the family's newborn grandson.

Its second resolution came in 2012 in opposition to Amendment One. “I took a resolution to the congregational board which opposed Amendment One,” Guttman states. “I thought there would be intense discussion. One person raised their hand and said ‘I move we accept the resolution.”’

Last year, the congregation at Temple Emanuel passed a resolution opposing North Carolina’s HB2 legislation – a hastily crafted and ill-intentioned attempt to prevent nondiscrimination protection for lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender individuals.

He says the HB2 resolution passed within a minute. While those votes were historic for the congregation, Guttman says it also was significant for him personally and as leader of the congregation. “It meant that I could speak on Amendment One and HB2 not only as Fred Guttman and Rabbi Guttman but I could speak on behalf of the congregation,” he said. “It was a historic occurrence for our congregation. “

“Fred Guttman” and “Rabbi Guttman” had been a vocal advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals for a number of years. He came to be a staunch advocate through a process that began some 18 years ago when his daughter came out as lesbian.

For the younger rabbi and at a point when he had not gained the understanding he possesses today, he said those earlier years were difficult. “It is not now as big a deal as it was then,” he said, a nod to the data that shows just how far the needle has moved in terms of negative attitudes toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals changing to positive ones. 

“But it was a big issue for me then and I didn't understand it,” he said. "And 18 or 19 years ago, I don’t think my daughter understood that it would take time to metabolize into my psyche. It was a game changer for me. It took me by surprise and I had no idea what it meant.

“At first, and I know this is stupid, but I thought maybe it's because I encouraged her too much in sports. But then I looked at all the girls on the team and said well they aren’t gay,” he added, displaying a sense of humor that so many have come to know.

Like so many other parents who grapple with a misunderstanding of sexual orientation and gender identity, he questioned whether his daughter’s sexual orientation was the result of something he had done wrong as a parent. What could he do to fix it? “Eventually I realized that this is who she was and this is how God had made her,” Guttman says. His daughter recently gave birth to the newest addition of Guttman’s family, a beautiful grandson. “And 18 or 19 years ago, I would never have thought my daughter would have a child. What did I know?

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Speaking in Raleigh at a 2013 service commentating the 10th Anniversary of the Mass Moral March on Raleigh.

“Eventually I went to her when she was in her early 20s and I told her I didn’t think I had been a very good parent. I asked her forgiveness for not always being as understanding and supportive as she deserved.”

Guttman said his journey took a turn inward and outward when Amendment One was passed by the N.C. House on Sept. 12, 2010, just a day after the annual observances of 9/11.

“On that day (Sept. 11, 2001) 3,000 people, most of them Americans, lost their lives because of intolerance, bigotry and hatred. The very next day after the 2011 observances, our state House had to pass a bill that proposed a constitutional amendment that was filled with intolerance and bigotry. 

The passage of Amendment One the following May would enshrine discrimination as an affront to a broad swath of North Carolinians – his daughter, other lesbian and gay individuals, their families, friends, co-workers and faith communities opposed to such discrimination.

“Now it wasn’t just about somebody else it was about my child.” Guttman said. “It goes very quickly from being about my child to everybody else, particularly as a rabbi.”

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Speaking last year in Greensboro at a service to honor those killed in the Orlando, Fla. Pulse nightclub tragedy.

Guttman said it was during that period that he began to understand just how important the civil rights issue was for progress toward full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. Guttman says during that period he had been reading statements from Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, who emphasized how the struggle for LGBTQ equality indeed was a civil rights issue.
“Rev. Barber was writing not from a religious point of view but a civil rights point of view,” he said. “That really resonated with me.”

He says he had seen how impactful that message has been to African American audiences who deeply understand discrimination and social hostility.  A Stanford University political scientist testified in the 2010  California Prop8 trial that no other minority groups in America have been the target of more restrictive ballot initiatives than gay men and lesbians. 

He believes Amendment One might not have failed at the ballot box if those in favor of marriage equality had focused more on marriage equality as a civil rights issue – the argument that won the day in Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court case whose June 26, 2015 ruling overturned Amendment One and similar marriage bans across the nation.

While Guttman is a strong advocate for the LGBTQ community, he’s also a vocal advocate for other social justice issues. In 2013, he was honored as one of the 50 Faces of Justice, a one-time recognition for the 50th anniversary of the Religious Action Center on Reform Judaism – the hub of Jewish social justice and legislative activity in Washington.

In addition to his Rabbinical Ordination from Hebrew Union College in 1979, he has a Master degree in Hebrew Literature from Hebrew Union College and a Master of Education from the University of North Florida. His undergraduate education was at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. In 2004, he was awarded a Doctor of Divinity from Hebrew Union College. 

Guttman has seen progress on many fronts of the LGBTQ Civil Rights Movement – marriage equality, changing attitudes, and most important changing religious perspectives.

As recent data shows a dramatic shift in the way persons of faith think about sexual orientation and gender identity, affirming faith communities will continue to play a pivotal role in bringing that majority voice to the forefront. While “Fred Guttman” and “Rabbi Guttman” are strong and passionate voices for LGBTQ equality, it is the work and support of Temple Emanuel of Greensboro that gives him a deep sense of thankfulness and pride.

“They have done a lot and I am really, really proud.”

Read more in the 2nd Volume of Equality in Faith

Read more in the 2nd Volume of Equality in Faith

• Carrboro filmmaker explores affirmation in homes – bound and unbound • A Charlotte man's journey from rejection to affirmation • A mom from rural North Carolina shares her family's story

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