Tag Archives: Jewish

Why Are The Gays So Loud? Unsolicited Advice From David Brooks

3 Apr

David BrooksIn the nasty wake of Republican Governor Pence making it legal to discriminate  against the LGBT community (which Presidential wannabes Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush have both applauded), we have been admonished by his holiness, White Hetero David Brooks, shining his beacon from atop his throne  at The New York Times.

While I have never been a fan of Brooks, I used to think of him as being at least a quasi rational conservative, albeit one who never quite understands his position of power and privilege as a white heterosexual man in  the United States. Apparently our uniting and proclaiming that we will not be considered second class citizens was enough to cause Brooks to clutch his pearls and grab his smelling salts. Sadly, Brooks’ latest diatribe does not even bother to include transgender people, or bisexual people.

Brooks has missed the civil rights bus at several stops. First, NO,  the law passed in Indiana is not “just like” the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That Federal Law and the 18 state laws actually modelled after it have their own problems — just look at the recent Hobby Lobby decision irrationally referencing RFRA — but are fundamentally different from the Indiana hate legislation. RFRA prohibits government action from interfering with the faith of individuals. Indiana — just like Arkansas, North Carolina, and Georgia if they are foolish and bigoted enough to follow suit — allows individuals to use their personal beliefs as a weapon against other individuals, refusing services and goods. That is absolutely not the same, something a man with Brooks’ education and background ought to clearly understand.

Secondly, my goodness what great privilege you must enjoy, demonstrated by your ability to remain this obtuse:

Instead, the argument seems to be that the federal act’s concrete case-by-case approach is wrong. The opponents seem to be saying there is no valid tension between religious pluralism and equality. Claims of religious liberty are covers for anti-gay bigotry.

While I would never have claimed you as an ally of the LGBT community, I do fear you are working against us, and this editorial certainly commits great trespass, for which I’m fairly certain you will neither reflect upon, nor make any attempts at repair.

Like many of your contemporaries, older, white, heterosexual males, you seem to be driving the train to irrelevance in the 21st century world. This is not what I would want, for I truly believe there is room for us all, however, the onus to get up to speed and become more inclusive is on you, not those of us who are targeted, marginalized, and have disproportionately less power. One should note, the Anti-Violence Project has reported that the homicide rate against the LGBT community is up exponentially in 2015.

Looking at this through a lens of social justice, I would add that people of color who are also LGBT often have even more at risk, thus I have to bring up the issue of race, as race and misogyny are always inextricable from the conversation.

Mr. Brooks, your aimless, thoughtless piece puts the blame on the victims, wondering why we have to push so hard to make ourselves heard. Your own deafness should answer that question for you. As a Jew Mr. Brooks, what happened to tikkun o’lam? Your behavior along with this editorial do nothing to help repair the world.

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From Russia with Love (?)

22 Apr

jews-must-register-or-face-deportation-ukraine-russia-donetsk-leafletGiven all of the vicious homophobia of Russia and its self-proclaimed Tsar, Vladimr Putin, along with the recent annexation of Crimea and the long-established regional history of misogyny and anti-Semitism, I’m starting to get a bit worried about a possible resurrection of a new USSR.

Last week I learned that following Pesach services a group of masked men (hard not to make a link to the KKK here) were delivering leaflets that instructed Jews to register with the city of Donetsk.  Jews were told they had to register to prove their citizenship and provide a list of all of their assets.  Am I the only one freaking out about this? Is anyone else thinking about Nazi Germany or the old Russian pogroms?

Despite the clear impression they intended to give, the masked bigots were not actually representing the Ukrainian government or the city of Donetsk.  They seem to represent a fringe right-wing group of bigots. Sadly, I can only imagine the trauma caused to these people coming out of the synagogue.

The tensions mounting in the Ukraine are unsettling at best. I struggle with how humans can make space for creating communities to thrive, and how do we prevent communities from being taken over and governed by an autocrat? Certainly, Putin has not been a friend to the Jewish community or the LGBT community. Now with his increased military presence in eastern Ukraine, this is feeling similar to Uncle Joe Stalin’s way of governing.

Cousin Vlad has made stirring speeches referring to “Tsarist borders” for Russia. Given the Crimean annexation, that should be terrifying for anyone paying attention. Do those borders include Latvia? Lithuania? Poland? Finland? Does the simple weight of historical maps trump over a century of evolving national identities, diplomacy, and binding international agreements? Putin seems to think himself a law unto himself. If he gets a nationalist surge behind him, where will it end?

By no means am I encouraging or endorsing we entrench ourselves in yet another war, but I wonder if it would be helpful for NATO to take a strong stand against Putin? The weight of history around how humans treat Jews and gays is very scary for me and I wonder with sadness, have these militants never read a history book?

Hero of the Week Award, August 9: Judge Harvey Brownstone

9 Aug

HarveyI need to thank my friend Bruce for inspiring me to celebrate Judge Harvey Brownstone as this week’s HWA.  Brownstone, the first openly gay judge in Canada, had the great pleasure and honor of officiating the wedding of Thea Spyer and Edith Windsor.  You might recall that it was Windsor who was the plaintiff in the case in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the core of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act — which restricted federal marriage benefits to opposite-sex married couples — as a violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection. Thank goodness we finally saw the death of DOMA.

Our Brownstone takes Tikkun olam  (Repair the World) quite seriously.  As a gay Reform Jew, Brownstone recounts:

I came from a Jewish community devoted to inclusiveness, helping one another, and fighting injustice—or, at least that’s what I thought growing up in Hamilton, Ontario.

Our Jewish community was filled with Eastern European immigrants and Holocaust survivors, and my father, a social worker who directed the Jewish Community Center, would bring affluent community members together to assist the newcomers with housing, furniture, clothing, and jobs.

While I do not subscribe to any religion, I have to admit that I wish more humans behaved in this inclusive manner and navigated the world through a lens of social justice.

It is important to note that Brownstone’s start was a difficult and painful one.  Coming from this social justice Jewish background, one would think his parents would have embraced their only child when coming out of the closet.  Sadly, this was not the case:

I decided to tell my parents that I was gay. We had always been close—I was an only child—and I anticipated that my father’s social work background, coupled with my parents’ strong Jewish values of “supporting your children no matter what,” would govern their reaction.

I could not have been more wrong. My parents exploded. They felt shame (“What did we do to cause this?”) and embarrassment (“What will people say when they find out?”). One of the most painful things my mother said to me was, “I survived the Holocaust for this?”

It was immensely painful to know that I had caused my parents such anguish and turmoil simply by revealing the truth about myself. To me, being gay was no different than being right-handed or having brown eyes. I believed—and still do—that we’re born this way. But to my parents, being gay was a choice, a “lifestyle.” I had been taught that what Jewish parents want most of all is for their children to be happy. But I quickly realized that my parents’ definition of “happy” was what counted, not mine.

Fortunately, Brownstone and his parents had a great reconciliation and he was celebrated for the mensch he is:

I invited my parents to my law school graduation, and they proudly attended. That was the beginning of a rapprochement that, over the next five years, would result in a full reconciliation…

In the early ’80s the Jewish community didn’t get that we were all Jews. If the Holocaust had taught us one thing, it was that to the Nazis it didn’t matter if you were gay or straight, Reform or Orthodox—you would share the same fate. But in my experience, this startling reality was overlooked when it came to accepting Jews who were different than the norm.

Eventually I became Chutzpah’s president. And in 1985, I persuaded the board to engage as gays and lesbians with the mainstream Toronto Jewish community.

Again, I am not a religious human, albeit I am spiritual, I do love how Brownstone concludes his interview with ReformJudaism.org:

Put simply—and no one should understand this better than we Jews—civil rights are not just about the law, and they’re not just about rights; they’re about human dignity. We were all made in God’s image. When we discriminate against and hurt each other, we hurt God. And that is why—whether we’re gay, straight, or plaid—this issue needs to matter to us all.

Mitt Romney: Mishegas in Israel

31 Jul

Magic Kippah?

Romney’s tour around the world is not turning out quite the way he had hoped.  Sadly, every time he opens his mouth he shows what a real shmegegge he is. His tour of the Olympics left many around the world skeptical of his ability to be an effective world leader.  Romney is not reducing that skepticism with his racist comments in Israel.

At a fundraiser in Jerusalem, he slipped into his rich-is-better routine and added a nice helping of ethnic slur.

Culture makes all the difference. And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things. As you come here and you see the G.D.P. per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000, and compare that with the G.D.P. per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality.

Demonstrating a sense of world history and political realities that matches his compassion for the Middle Class, Romney overlooked the many factors involved in that discrepancy. (He also managed to overlook facts again, getting his figures wrong…)  Accusing Palestinians of somehow being innately inferior, not only smacks of blatant racism, but is also exceedingly insulting to Jews.  Has Romney no sense of history? No sense of form or timing? Jews know first hand what it feels like to be “othered” and made to be subhuman, and thus typically have great compassion for those who are marginalized in the same fashion. Of course, why should Mitt stand for civil rights abroad when he actively denies civil rights to Americans who can’t afford health care, to American women, to the entire American LGBTQ community?   Since our Mitt drank the “Tea” he seems to be spreading his hate and bigotry all over the world — proving he is NOT material for a world leader.

Startled by the outcry, including charges of racism from Palestinian and Israeli authorities and a charge of anti-Semitism from a prominent Rabbi, the Romney campaign went back on the defensive. Their excuses? First, that somehow a direct quote “mischaracterized” his comments. Second that what poor ol’ Mitt said was fine because he also compared the U.S. to Mexico and Chile to Ecuador. Really? This is the only defense his campaign can manage? “Look folks, he really is not that bad and at least he is just as bad in the United States!” Things aren’t looking up for that Latin American tour…

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 29, Omar Sharif, Jr.

29 Jun

Today we honor and celebrate a man who made a bold statement merely through his honesty. Omar Joseph El Sharif was born in Montreal in 1983. He is the grandson of renowned actor Omar Sharif; as such, he had a privileged upbringing, spending his youth as a socialite. Wanting more, he obtained a Master’s in Comparative Politics from Queen’s University in Canada. Also bitten by the family acting bug, he obtained a role in an Egyptian TV program and tried stand-up comedy. Fluent in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Hebrew and Yiddish (his maternal grandparents are Jewish Holocaust survivors), Omar continues to seek out roles internationally. In 2010 Sharif moved to Los Angeles, California to study at The Lee Strasberg Institute of Theatre and Film. He also participated in the 83rd Academy Awards ceremony, joining Kirk Douglas in a skit.

Earlier this year, Sharif raised eyebrows when he was interviewed by The Advocate. He spoke out about the need for civil rights free from religious dogma, specifially referring to the Egyptian revolution. Two weeks later, he published an impassioned editorial in the magazine entitled Coming Out Story: We’re Not in Cairo Anymore. He discussed his reasons for moving from Egypt, perhaps permanently, including this great passage:

One year since the start of the revolution, I am not as hopeful. […] The vision for a freer, more equal Egypt — a vision that many young patriots gave their lives to see realized in Tahrir Square — has been hijacked. The full spectrum of equal and human rights are now wedge issues used by both the Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces and the Islamist parties, when they should be regarded as universal truths.

I write this article despite the inherent risks associated because as we stand idle at what we hoped would be the pinnacle of Egyptian modern history, I worry that a fall from the top could be the most devastating. I write, with healthy respect for the dangers that may come, for fear that Egypt’s Arab Spring may be moving us backward, not forward. And so I hesitantly confess: I am Egyptian, I am half Jewish, and I am gay.

That my mother is Jewish is no small disclosure when you are from Egypt, no matter the year. And being openly gay has always meant asking for trouble, but perhaps especially during this time of political and social upheaval. With the victories of several Islamist parties in recent elections, a conversation needs to be had and certain questions need to be raised. I ask myself: Am I welcome in the new Egypt? Will being Egyptian, half Jewish, and gay forever remain mutually exclusive identities? Are they identities to be hidden?

The entire article is worthwhile reading, showing how articulate and insistent Sharif is and how dedicated he is to social justice. He is still finding his voice as an activist and advocate, but with a start like this, great things may come. The courage he demonstrates in outing himself in the face of religious and political exile is powerful. He sums it up in a way that many Americans should remember:

And yet I speak out because I am a patriot.

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 23, Michael Kaplan

23 Jun

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to my friend Michael Kaplan, the Executive Director of Cascade AIDS Project (CAP). As you will see from our interview, Michael’s life shows all of us how our individual and collective voices can help address the intersections of oppression.

Michael  was born and raised in Minnesota, save for five years living in Kansas. He  graduated from high school in Wichita, “a very conservative place,” before returning to Minnesota for college. Michael earned his B.A. in Child Psychology and his Master’s in Adult and Community Education.

On coming out as gay:

I came out at age 20 at U. of Minn and after I came out I explored being queer on a trip across Europe.  My parents were very supportive.  Their concern was what I would have to deal with as a gay man.  I come from leftist Jewish hippie parents.  I have a fraternal twin brother and an older brother.  My mom was social worker.

On becoming an activist:

Coming out drew me to community building.  Growing up I wanted to be a teacher—I knew I wanted to help kids.  A professor at U. of Minn led me to volunteering at the Twin Cities Gay and Lesbian Coffee House, now called District 202.  Before I was hired and while volunteering there I tested HIV+ at age 22. After volunteering for several years, they hired me as the ED, at age 23. The kids named it District 202.  For me there were a lot of people focused on AIDS, but not focused on Queer youth stuff.  I later got involved with the state planning group for  HIV prevention and co-chaired the state prevention plan for Minnesota.  In 1992 I became the Founding Executive Director of the Queer Center in Minneapolis, now called District 202.  In 1997 I got a fellowship  (one of three) from the CDC, the Price Fellow for HIV Prevention and Leadership.

The CDC got me interested in a larger stage to do national work and in 1998 I moved to D.C.  I was on the board of the National Youth Advocacy Council (NYAC) and then became their Development Director.  Six months later a friend of mine created a position for me with the Academy for Educational Development (AED), but NYAC made me their Deputy Director.  Eventually I did go to work with AED and I got involved with government contracts around HIV issues, specifically prevention.  I stayed with AED for seven years.  I was invited to work on international proposals.

Around 2002 my proposal was funded and I got to go to Zimbabwe, which was both daunting and exciting.  That was the start of me doing international work.  I was able to secure grants for HIV prevention in countries in Africa and all of Central America. One particular grant was for 90 million.  When I moved to D.C. in 1998 Sean and I broke up and he moved to the West Coast.  We met up again in 2006 and he moved to D.C. for us to live together.  I was traveling so much around the world that we both decided that I would look for an opportunity in the United States.  In 2008, I sent my application for the ED position at CAP from my work in Vietnam on a business trip.  In September of 2008, I got the ED position at CAP.

What should marginalized communities do to have a stronger voice?

I just want people to live their lives—to be out and open—through your existence in the world we change things.  It is because I am an out open gay Jewish, foster parent, HIV+ man, that folks who thought they never interacted with any of these identities have to realize they have in fact met someone.  It is a great opportunity for education.

I need to thank Michael for this interview and for all of the good work he is doing towards social justice.

Remembering Maurice Sendak

10 May

The Original Wild Thing

This week the world lost a unique talent. Maurice Sendak, the author and illustrator perhaps best know for his Caldecott winning Where the Wild Things Are, passed away at age 83. A pioneer in children’s literature, he influenced generations of readers and writers. The New York Times called him “the most important children’s book artist of the 20th Century.” He also authored one of the books most frequently challenged in libraries, 1970’s charming In the Night Kitchen.

Sendak was born in 1928 in Brooklyn to Jewish immigrants from Poland. He describes his childhood as a “terrible situation” because of the steady news of family members dying in the Holocaust. He was a sickly child and fell in love with books during a period when he was confined to his bed. He decided to become an illustrator after seeing Disney’s Fantasia; his first major work was illustrating the Little Bear books written by Else Holmelund Minarik.

Sendak was also gay, a fact few knew until late in his life. He lived with his partner, Dr. Eugene Glynn, for 50 years before Glynn’s death in May 2007. In an interview with the New York Times in 2008, he was asked if there was any question he hadn’t been asked before.

‘Well, that I’m gay…I just didn’t think it was anybody’s business,’ Mr. Sendak stated. He never told his parents: ‘All I wanted was to be straight so my parents could be happy. They never, never, never knew.’ A gay artist in New York is not exactly uncommon, but Mr. Sendak said that the idea of a gay man writing children books would have hurt his career when he was in his 20s and 30s.

He was also a philanthropist, most famously giving $1 million in 2010 to the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, a mental-health and social services agency that provides services to New York’s needy families. Sendak gave the gift in honor of his partner, who was a psychiatrist.

Leading a selfish life is unbearable…what Eugene did to save lives, I am trying to do artistically. You can’t memorialize someone like Eugene, there are few people like him in the world with his heart and social consciousness…all I’m doing is contributing to something he would have wanted to do.

I fell in love with Sendak’s work as a young child (like so many did). Although I was a precocious reader and quickly moved past most picture books, his quirky sense of story and astonishing attention to detail kept bringing me back. I particularly love Higglety Pigglety Pop! or There Must Be More to Life which was published just after I was born. When I was visiting Philadelphia, I stumbled across the Rosenbach Museum, which features the Sendak collection, the official repository of his work. In includes his collection of nearly 10,000 works of art, manuscripts, books and ephemera. It was a wonderful experience and gave me a whole new appreciation for the man and the artist (including his deep fondness for the work of Herman Melville.) Known to the world at large as a grumpy curmudgeon, he was described by his friends as the kindest and most loyal man they knew. Farewell, Mr. Sendak. The world will miss you, and so will I.

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