The 6th February 2021 would have been Rabbi Dr Lionel Blue’s 91st birthday. As February is also LGBTQ+ History Month, it feels a particularly pertinent time to remember Britain’s first openly gay Rabbi.
Rabbi Lionel Blue was one of the first two students at Leo Baeck College, gaining ordination in 1960. After serving at South West Essex and Settlement Reform Synagogue and Middlesex New Synagogue (now Mosaic Reform), he became a lecturer at Leo Baeck College and convener of the Reform Beit Din.
Rabbi Lionel was probably best known however for his radio contributions, including as a frequent guest on Radio 4’s Thought for the Day. He was often described as Britain’s best loved Rabbi. Rabbi Lionel came out as gay in 1980, becoming the first Rabbi to do so in the United Kingdom, paving the way for LGBTQ+ leadership within the Reform movement. He is much missed as a mentor, friend and colleague.
In the below video, Student Rabbi Lev Taylor, one of our new generation of LGBTQ+ leaders, pays tribute to Rabbi Lionel Blue.
Transcript: Yesterday would have been the birthday of Rabbi Lionel Blue, zichrona livracha. He was the first Rabbi to be gay in the United Kingdom, probably in the world. He was outed by the Sun in the 1980s, although many in the Jewish community already knew he was gay, and embraced him. Towards the end of his life at a Pride Shabbat Lionel commented on how happy he was on the progress that had been made in progressive Judaism on acceptance of LGBT people and said that he looked forward to a new generation of LGBT leaders. So, as we come in to LGBT history month, let us celebrate the great progress that has been made in Reform Judaism, and look forward to a greater future of advancing the rights of all lesbian, gay, bi and trans people.