Q&A: An LGBT leader with ‘feminist tendencies’

Name: Julie Dorf
Age: 50
City: San Francisco
Position: Senior adviser and co-founder, Council for Global Equality

Julie Dorf

J.: You’ve been a leader in the LGBT equality movement for more than 25 years. What’s on your plate right now?

Julie Dorf: Well, besides a plumbing disaster in my house and the endless juggling of being a working parent … I was just reading Rep. [Bernie] Sanders’ changes to the fast-track authority bill that would allow President Obama to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership [free-trade] agreement. TPP is opposed by many liberal groups for a variety of reasons, and I have the fun of organizing the coalition of 29 LGBT and human rights organizations to try and articulate our concerns. It’s really important and impacts real people’s lives all over the world.

The other thing is the visit of the prime minster of Japan [on April 27] … so we’ve been working with Japanese LGBT groups to get important points delivered to the U.S. administration to make sure Japan, as an important American ally, is encouraged to be more supportive of LGBT equality.
J.: Explain the path between you and someone like the prime minister of Japan.

JD: I work with a group that has lots of connections and in-roads into the Obama administration. We’ve developed really trusted and informed relationships with people in the White House and State Department, and we have an opportunity to put in our two cents on a whole range of issues, to encourage our government whenever possible to seize opportunities for positive change. Our government is super big and super complicated, but thankfully we’re part of a winning movement right now. Policymakers want to know what the LGBT community thinks. Your average Joe Shmo bureaucrat sees the direction of change, and people in government want to listen to us in a way that 10 years ago they weren’t.

J.: Did you ever dream of this turn of events?

JD: The last seven years of the Obama administration have provided me with countless pinch-myself moments. Having pride about my government’s position or stridency on an equality issue is still something I do not take for granted. It’s incredibly satisfying to go from an outsider/opposition mentality to being able to make real change.

J.: Are you still on the board of Freedom to Marry?

JD: Yes, I’m the treasurer, and I’m very excited to be part of the wind-down committee. Assuming we have the victory we are hoping for at the Supreme Court, our organization will have completed its mission. The timeline for achieving marriage equality keeps getting shorter and shorter. It blows our minds.

J.: Do people generally feel pretty postive and hopeful?

JD: There’s a lot of cautious optimism, with the emphasis on optimism. But exactly how the Supreme Court carves out their decision will have lots of implications. Even if we have the best possible win, we still have a lot of work left to do. After June we may have marriage equality in 50 states, but you can still lose your job in 29 states for being gay.

J.: Your family belongs to Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco and you’ve been active for many years with J Street. What’s your Jewish background?

JD: I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in a very close-knit Jewish community. We kept kosher and my parents are shomer Shabbos. I went to [Orthodox] Jewish day school until I was kicked out in fifth grade for being rude to my rabbi. My report card comments said, “Beware of her feminist tendencies.” Despite this incredible amount of sexist thinking that was in my midst, my Jewish upbringing made me a critical thinker and instilled in me my sense of social justice, a love of Israel and a feeling of responsibility for people outside of my own little world, and for that I’m incredibly grateful.

J.: Do you see any of the fifth-grade you in either of your daughters (ages 16 and 11)?

JD: Both of my children have struggled with authority figures, including their parents (laughs), and have had to learn how to balance their justice instincts with respect.

J.: Do you have any special family traditions?

JD: We have a couple of Shabbat rituals we love. When we light the candles, we bring the Shabbat spirit into ourselves, and then we send light out to the world, taking five or 10 minutes to talk about things going on in places that could use some light. Also Jenni [wife Jenni Olson] is a poet, so we try about once a month to have poetry Shabbat where everyone comes with a poem to share and read.

“Talking with …” focuses on local Jews who are doing things we find interesting. Send suggestions to sueb@jweekly.com.

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Sue Barnett

Sue Barnett is J.'s senior editor. She can be reached at sueb@jweekly.com.