excetera3wTTV’s “Ellen” is out and about, while writer Paul Rudnick’s “In & Out” is over the top at the box office. Welcome to the “gay ’90s.” More and more movies, TV shows and plays seem to be exploring the gay lifestyle these days. And more and more, it seems gay performers are less scared of opening their closets, looking for light and love in all the performing places.

With so many Jews involved in the creative arts as writers, producers and performers, it is no surprise that they cut a high profile among those attempting to be gay and carefree about their careers. . What role has Judaism played in their lives? Has the Jewish community backed their cause from the beginning? Or has it talked behind their backs while trying to disassociate itself from these neighbors, friends and family members?

Despite the fact that the Torah targets homosexuality as sinful behavior, have gay Jewish artists found acceptance in their communities?
Interviews with a number of leading lights in the arts who are Jewish and gay reveal a picture of tolerance and concern.

“There are such strong traditions of Jewish liberalism and reverence for culture,” says writer Rudnick, whose movie “In & Out” comically explores the story of a high school teacher whose former student teaches him the dangers of sexual self-delusion.

“There is a great Jewish pride in Jewish artists, who often serve as heroes.”

But what happens if those artists don’t follow the straight and narrow? Are Jews narrow-minded about sexual orientation?

“Jews,” says Rudnick with a chuckle, “are not exempt from the paradox” of heaping praise while hurling condemnation at someone outside the “norm.”

Orthodox outcry

“I know on a political level, whenever New York City tried to pass a gay civil rights bill, there was always an outcry from the Orthodox community.
“It’s ironic, given our own history of being persecuted, that [the Orthodox] would be willing to persecute others.”

Susan Miller has had a somewhat unorthodox career. A schoolteacher married to an attorney, her coming out was not so much a party but a slow celebration.

“I never had a declaration,” she says of becoming a lesbian.
“It was more like an evolution.”

It served a dramatic purpose, too. The writer/actress bared her life in “My Left Breast,” in which she declared:
“I am a one-breasted, menopausal, bisexual lesbian mom, and I am in!”

Off-Broadway thought she was in, too, giving Miller’s work an Obie Award.

Miller prizes what Judaism has meant to her as a lesbian writer and performer: “Judaism offers a sense of charity, of opening doors within yourself to truths and knowledge, to an understanding of the complex relationships between people.”

It was not always so simple. Miller, who grew up in Hazelton, Pa., has memories of a Jewish life that was far from liberal.

“People were steeped in small-town views,” she recalls.

“I escaped it. I found it harder to express myself and find comfort in the confines of a small-town Jewish community.”

Would she feel at home at a Hazelton homecoming?

“I’d feel no qualms about bringing my lover with me. But I wouldn’t feel comfortable living there,” says the New Yorker….

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony (“Angels in America”) Kushner had an uncomfortable childhood, living amid the bias of the bayous in Lake Charles, La.

It was an area where it was bad enough being Jewish, let alone gay. Yet, Kushner, overtly gay without proclaiming his orientation while living there, found some comfort among other Jews.

“There was sustenance in the Jewish community,” he says.

But support for the young artist may have had more to do with his intellect than his sexual orientation.

“I was smart, and they all liked that,” he says. “I was a national champion debater in high school.

“Being smart was a very important thing.”

What smarts is that Kushner believes support would have evaporated had he unlatched the closet door.

“They were as homophobic as anyone else.” he says of the Jews of Lake Charles.

Being out is nothing new for folk singer Alix Dobkin: “We are the greatest outsiders,”
she says of what it means to be gay and Jewish.

Respects Judaism’s values

While claiming “I have no use for religion,” Dobkin, who once attended a Communist Jewish camp as a kid, sings the praises of Jewish culture: “I respect its values; its respect for life, education, community spirit.”

Film maker Vickie Seitchik wasn’t sure in what spirit she should accept the fact that her son was gay.

“Everyone is homophobic,” she says. “I thought my son was damaged.

“My emotions were of guilt and blame, stemming from the whole psychology that I knew, that if someone were gay or lesbian, it was [believed to be] because of a trauma he or she had growing up.”

Seitchik straightened out her feelings.

“My feeling is that most Jewish parents will make the attempt to deal with homophobia,” she says, “because they know their kids deserve the best from them.”

Seitchik has done her best in a reel way. She made the film “Queer Son,” a compassionate and caring documentary about her son, Mark, and how the whole family came to support his cause.

“I know it has had an impact on friends and their ridding themselves of homophobic feelings,” she says.

Support has also come from Jewish organizations, which have purchased copies of the film for screenings. Two years ago, “Queer Son” was shown at the Jewish Film Festival of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Philadelphia.

If there is a festive feeling among Jewish artists and others during “the gay “90s,” maybe it is because, with barriers coming down, respect and tolerance is on the up-and-up.

After all, when all is said and done and performed, people are people, says writer/actor Miller, thinking back on a gay service she attended with her lover during a High Holidays observation.

“And do you know what?” says Miller of the crowd of gay congregants.

“They all looked like Jews.”