Family Equality Council Executive Director Gabriel Blau’s faith background has always proven an integral part of his LGBT advocacy.
He founded the God and Sexuality National Academic Conference at Bard College in 1998 that brought together scholars and advocates to present lectures and workshops on gender, sexuality and religion because he “wasn’t finding the kind of leaders and resources” he said he needed as an LGBT person of faith. Blau later led the $18 million campaign to raise funds that would allow Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, an LGBT synagogue in New York City, to move into a new location in Manhattan.
Blau told the Washington Blade during an interview at his D.C. office that his faith background has proven an asset in his new position.
“As a family organization, we’re one of the few that is not either just a right-wing group or a faith-based group,” he said. “The concept of family values has been so really tarnished by other family values groups, and often in the name of faith and often in the name of what’s right and what God wants. I think understanding that is critical to being able to fight it and to fight for real family values for valuing families.”
Blau joined Family Equality Council in January as its deputy director of strategic advancement. The organization’s board of directors in August appointed him to succeed long-time Executive Director Jennifer Chrisler, who resigned earlier this year to accept a senior administrative position at Smith College in Massachusetts.
Alan Bernstein, board chair of the Council, said in a press release that Blau represents a new generation of LGBT leaders in the country.
“One whose personal experiences and passion for social change can inspire our families and policy makers,” Bernstein said. “He is uniquely qualified to lead Family Equality Council at this pivotal moment in our organization’s history and in the LGBT movement. We look forward to having him lead the organization’s efforts from our nation’s capital where we can continue the progress we’ve made in being recognized as the leading national voice on issues related to LGBT family equality.”
Blau commutes between D.C. and New York where he lives with his husband Dylan and their 5-year-old son, Elijah. He also spends one week a month working out of the Family Equality Council’s Boston office.
Family Equality Council’s mission evolves, remains the same
Blau told the Blade his organization is more “important than we’ve ever been” since a group of gay fathers founded it in 1979, but in “different ways.”
The Family Equality Council signed onto amicus briefs in two cases that prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down California’s Proposition 8 and find a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. It also wrote the brief the Voices of Children submitted in the two cases.
The organization also meets regularly with members of the Obama administration and lobbies members of Congress to support a number of LGBT-specific measures. These include the Every Child Deserves a Family Act that would prohibit discrimination in the adoption or foster care system based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression or marital status.
Family Equality Council has also spoken out against a 2012 Virginia law that allows private adoption and foster care agencies to reject prospective parents based on their religious or moral beliefs. Blau last month criticized Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette after his office described marriage as a way to “regulate sexual relationships between men and women” in a brief it filed in a lesbian couple’s federal lawsuit that challenges the state’s ban on gay nuptials and same-sex second parent adoptions.
“We’re now in a world where we can achieve legal equality in ways that the people who first got together in 1979 could not have even imagined,” Blau says. “Having an organization that has that kind of history and is every day — day in and day out — thinking about family issues is critical to that conversation.”
Blau also spoke to the Blade about the controversy that erupted before last month’s Dallas Pride parade after organizers and local authorities warned participants against nudity and sexual conduct during the annual display.
“To make the parade more ‘family friendly’ and to accommodate comfort for the increasing number of attending heterosexuals and corporate sponsorship, participants are being asked to cover up,” local LGBT advocate Daniel Scott Cates wrote on his Facebook page as the Associated Press reported on Sept. 17. “The ‘queer’ is effectively being erased from our Pride celebration.”
Blau said he and his husband bring their son to New York’s annual Pride parade each year. He added his organization has worked with 20 Pride organizations so far this year to help them create what he described as family-friendly spaces.
“It’s healthy for every community to have a conversation about what it means to have a Pride celebration, what is the LGBT community in any given area,” Blau says. “When that community includes children, that community needs to figure out what that means for them. We as an organization do not in any way dictate what the answer is.”
Russia LGBT rights crackdown ‘scary moment in history’
Family Equality Council last month sharply criticized a Russian proposal that seeks to allow authorities to deny parental custody based on their sexual orientation. Blau also spoke with the Blade days after a video that claims gays and lesbians adopt children so they can rape them emerged.
“We’re not an international organization, but many families in Russia are fleeing and seeking asylum in the U.S.,” he says. “When they are here, they are part of our community.”
Blau said Family Equality Council supporters have contacted him to see what they can do to challenge Russia over its LGBT rights record that includes a law that bans gay propaganda to minors. He added his organization continues to monitor the situation and work with international LGBT organizations to respond to the situation.
“We have had the opportunities to speak directly with people who are directly affected by what is happening in Russia,” Blau says, without naming specific groups. “For many of us it is a very scary moment in history.”
Group seeks to ‘better’ use its resources
Blau says his organization has begun a six month review of its strategic plan that will reconsider its priorities as the LGBT rights movement continues to gain ground across the country.
In the meantime, he says Family Equality Council remains focused on its core mission and constituency while launching new efforts. These include its Outspoken Generation initiative that seeks to encourage children of LGBT parents to talk about their experiences.
“The landscape is changing on a weekly basis, which is a great thing, but it’s challenging,” Blau says. “We’re always looking at better ways to use our resources, to secure the parent-child relationship, to create not just equality in law but in culture and in society using the tools we have.”