Gus Kenworthy
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Biden Nominates Lesbian Rabbi to Religious Freedom Commission

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum

While Donald Trump named homophobe Tony Perkins to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, President Joe Biden is nominating a lesbian rabbi.

Biden Friday announced his intent to nominate Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, leader of LGBTQ-focused Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, to the commission, a bipartisan federal government body that monitors the right to religion and belief abroad.

Kleinbaum became Congregation Beit Simchat Torah’s first full-time rabbi in 1992. The New York Cit synagogue was founded in 1973 to serve the needs of queer Jews. Kleinbaum arrived “at the height of the AIDS crisis when the synagogue was in desperate need of pastoral care and spiritual leadership,” a White House press release notes. “She guided the congregation through a period of loss and change, while addressing social issues and building a strong and deeply spiritual community. Under her leadership as Senior Rabbi, CBST has become a powerful voice in the movement for equality and justice for people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and expressions.”

She served a term on the commission last year, having been nominated by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer. She is also a member of New York City’s Commission on Human Rights, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Faith Based Advisory Council, and the boards of the New York Jewish Agenda and the New Israel Fund. She is married to Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Biden also nominated Khizr Khan, a well-known Trump critic, to the commission. Khan spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention about the death of his son, Army Capt. Humayun Khan, in Iraq in 2004, and asserted that Trump has never made a sacrifice for the U.S. and has likely never read the Constitution. Khan is founder of the Constitution Literacy and National Unity Project and the author of three books.

By the way, homophobe and transphobe Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, is still a member of the commission. His term runs until 2022.

Biden announced two other nominees for religious freedom posts. Rashad Hussein is his nominee for ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom; if confirmed by the Senate, he will be the first Muslim to serve in that role. He is currently director for partnerships and global engagement at the National Security Council. He was a special envoy during President Barack Obama’s administration, with one assignment to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and another on counterterrorism communications, and has held posts with the Department of Justice and the House Judiciary Committee. He will succeed Sam Brownback, who left at the end of the Trump administration. Brownback, a former senator and governor, was well-known for his anti-LGBTQ+ views.

Deborah E. Lipstadt is the nominee for special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, with the rank of ambassador. She is Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Atlanta’s Emory University, where she was the founding director of the Institute for Jewish Studies. She was once sued for libel by British writer and Holocaust denier David Irving, who lost after a 10-week trial in London in 2000. She will succeed Trump appointee Elan Carr.

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