JQT Vancouver (pronounced J-cutie) is a Jewish queer and trans non-profit. Our mission is queering Jewish space and Jewifying queer space.
When JQT was just starting out, a survey was conducted to determine the community’s needs. Unsurprisingly, we found that folx wanted a queer-friendly place to celebrate Shabbat and the holidays. And also wanting services ranging from childcare to seniorcare.
We learned that for many JQTs being able to celebrate both their Jewish and LGBTQ+ identities together was rare. Being queer in the Jewish community and being a Jew in the queer community can be difficult for social, cultural and political reasons. Therefore, our events and programming provide the opportunity for JQTs to explore their many identities at their own speed in a safe and supportive environment.
Before we became an official organization, JQT was making strides. In 2018 a small group of volunteers gathered with more than 30 Jewish organizations to form the 2018 Jewish Pride Planning Committee. This committee was put together to celebrate the inaugural community-wide Jewish Pride initiative. The two-part event involved a Shabbat Dinner with Pride Colours at VanDusen Gardens and a Jewish Pride Community Tent at Vancouver Pride’s Sunset Beach Festival.
Following these events, some of the planning members continued to meet. It became evident there was a need to have events for LGBTQ+ Jews not only during Pride week, but 365 days of the year. In November 2018, this group became JQT Vancouver and operated as the volunteer conglomeration JQT Dream Team—priding itself in giving anyone the opportunity to come and go as they please.
As a Vancouver Pride Society Community Partner, JQT gets to enjoy Jewifying queer spaces. During the annual Vancouver Pride march, we have had a place on the balcony of our Jewish fairy godfathers’ overlooking English Bay. We competed in Vancouver Pride’s scavenger hunt through completing tasks that included the creation of our maskot, JQT Gefilte Fish, and JQT’s Hebrew alphabet video. We were also invited to share a JQT Chanukah greeting for Vancouver Pride’s 2020 Final Countdown.
Our proudest moments of queering Jewish spaces involve our initiatives that include and amplify queer voices and perpectives during the holidays. For the first time, we brought drag to the Isaac Waldman Jewish Public Library at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. Our special guest, Mx Fortunate, hosted our Purim Drag Storytime. We also explored Jewish queer identity over a Rosh Hashanah challah braiding tutorial with the Challah Prince. For Hanukkah, we teamed up with Tribe 12 in Philadelphia to light the menorah and schmooze with Hanukkah Hotties—all of whom are lighting up their respective parts of the world by queering Jewish space and Jewifying queer space.
In addition, we celebrated Jewish *Queer Trans* Heritage Month in a three-part series amplifying marginalized Jewish queer trans artist voices. Our work, however, continues outside of holidays and celebrations and into everyday practices. With the help of Reb Irwin Keller—spiritual leader of Congregation Ner Shalom in Sonoma County, California—we created Jewish queer blessings in masculine, feminine, and non-binary Hebrew.
Besides events, JQT engages in various initiatives. One supports the re-launch of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver’s LGBTQ+ youth program called Queerious. We participate in a variety of panel discussions planned by local Jewish organizations to discuss the importance of intersectionality, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility.
An important partnership is with the Jewish Museum & Archives of British Columbia to conduct On The Record: The BC Jewish Queer & Trans Oral History Project. The project entails collecting the stories of older Jewish queer and trans adults, and enhancing public understanding of their lived experiences in both Jewish and LGBTQ+ communities. Recently, we joined up with No Silence on Race on PRISM: A Convening of Jewish Artists of Colour (in partnership with FENTSTER) and on our call for submissions for our JQT Wall of Artists.
Through our work, we recognize a growing demand for JQT programming, but our financial and human resources are limited. We have been volunteering our time and relying on bake sales, donations, and a few other sources to provide much-needed programming. In addition to directing and partnering on activities, we have also made ourselves available to the media and various organizations when called upon to give statements or educate community members on a number of issues.
This past August, we officially incorporated as the non-profit: Jewish Queer Trans Folx of Vancouver Society (DBA ‘JQT Vancouver’). On February 7, 2021, we welcomed in JQT’s first official board to set up JQT for success for the long haul. We are the only operating home-grown Jewish LGBTQ+ non-profit in Canada, and recognize the implications of this responsibility.
Since JQT formed, our community has grown and become a safe space, even a lifeline in certain instances. We thank the Jewish LGBTQ+ groups that have come before us, as their advocacy—for inclusion, diversity and accessibility—paved the path for JQT to thrive.
Learn more about JQT Vancouver at www.jqtvancouver.ca
Header image design by Clarrie Feinstein.
Carmel Ayala Tanaka is a queer Jewpanese woman of colour from Vancouver, BC, Canada on the unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. Her mother is Ashkenazi Israeli and her father is Japanese Canadian. She is a Community Engagement professional. She founded JQT Vancouver, (pronounced “J-Cutie”) Vancouver’s Jewish queer trans nonprofit, Genocide Prevention BC and was named one of Be’chol Lashon’s 7 LGBTQ+ Jews of Color you should know. She co-founded a monthly Zoom call for Jewpanese people and their families, and the annual Cross Cultural Walking Tours in Strathcona!