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March 22, 2016 3

Intended or Not, SJP’s Actions Have Consequences for LGBTQ People

By Seth M. Marnin, Vice Pres­i­dent for Civil Rights

Recent homo­pho­bic and anti-Semitic inci­dents at Brown Uni­ver­sity came on the heels of the announce­ment that Janet Mock, trans­gen­der author and founder of #Girl­s­LikeUs, a social media project that empow­ers trans women, had can­celled her sched­uled speak­ing engage­ment there. Mock’s talk, Redefin­ing Real­ness, was spon­sored by Moral Voices, the Brown Cen­ter for Stu­dents of Color, Sarah Doyle Women’s Cen­ter, LGBTQ Cen­ter, Sex­ual Assault Peer Edu­ca­tors, Swearer Cen­ter for Pub­lic Ser­vice, Office of the Chap­lains, the Rhode Island School of Design’s Office of Inter­cul­tural Stu­dent Engage­ment, and Brown/RISD Hillel.

React­ing to the fact that Hil­lel was one of the co-sponsors of pro­gram, the Brown Uni­ver­sity chap­ter of Stu­dents for Jus­tice in Pales­tine (SJP) launched a change.org peti­tion urg­ing Ms. Mock to reject Hillel’s invi­ta­tion to speak, say­ing that she should accept “Brown stu­dents’ spon­sor­ship instead of Hillel’s.”  Although they were only able to gain 159 sup­port­ers (of the nearly 9,000 stu­dents who attend Brown), SJP’s divi­sive efforts led to Ms. Mock can­celling her talk.

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

While some may be quick to crit­i­cize Ms. Mock’s deci­sion, con­dem­na­tion should instead be lev­eled against SJP and their efforts to splin­ter a com­mu­nity and use Ms. Mock as a pawn. In their effort to link Hillel’s Moral Voices’ cam­paign — a largely domes­tic ini­tia­tive high­light­ing vio­lence against LGBT+ indi­vid­u­als and com­mu­ni­ties — to vio­lence in the Mid­dle East, SJP forced a trans­gen­der woman of color to choose between silenc­ing her­self or allow­ing her­self to be exploited for their unre­lated cru­sade.  She should never have been put in that position.

The homo­pho­bic and anti-Semitic graf­fiti that appeared on Brown’s cam­pus just days later occurred in an envi­ron­ment that SJP helped cre­ate. Their claim to be sur­prised is unper­sua­sive.   More­over, the graf­fiti is only one vis­i­ble sign of the con­se­quences of SJP’s actions. While SJP’s efforts to alien­ate Jew­ish stu­dents are well doc­u­mented, there are other impli­ca­tions too.

There are far too few vis­i­ble trans­gen­der role mod­els and lead­ers. Efforts that have the effect of quash­ing those scarce voices have far-reaching reper­cus­sions.  For exam­ple, stud­ies have shown that the sui­cide attempt rate among trans­gen­der men and women exceeds 41%, greatly sur­pass­ing the 4.6% of the over­all U.S. pop­u­la­tion who report a sui­cide attempt at some point in their lives. The ele­vated rates of sui­cide attempts are con­nected with sur­vivors’ expe­ri­ences of fam­ily rejec­tion and dis­crim­i­na­tion and vio­lence at school and work. The absence of trans­gen­der voices in main­stream dis­course also plays a role. There few role mod­els for young trans­gen­der peo­ple, and fam­i­lies, co-workers, and friends of trans­gen­der peo­ple have lim­ited oppor­tu­ni­ties to hear from trans­gen­der lead­ers.  Such an expe­ri­ence would bet­ter equip them to be allies in the future. Unfor­tu­nately, SJP’s actions fore­closed that pos­si­bil­ity for the Brown Uni­ver­sity campus.

The impor­tance of pro­vid­ing plat­form for trans­gen­der voices is under­scored by the fact that, accord­ing to the National Coali­tion of Anti-Violence Pro­grams’ most recent report, vio­lence against trans­gen­der women and par­tic­u­larly trans­gen­der women of color remains at an alarm­ingly high rate. At present, only 17 states and the Dis­trict of Colum­bia have hate crime laws that explic­itly cover gen­der iden­tity. Crit­i­cal efforts to address vio­lence against LGBTQ peo­ple, includ­ing advo­cacy for inclu­sive hate crime laws like the 50 States Against Hate cam­paign, are under­mined by orga­ni­za­tions that engage in activism that results in silenc­ing trans­gen­der voices. That too is what SJP did.

SJP encour­aged a speaker – wholly unre­lated to Israel — to reject an invi­ta­tion from a broad coali­tion of stu­dent orga­ni­za­tions solely because one of those orga­ni­za­tions is Jew­ish. Intended or not, SJP harmed the LGBTQ com­mu­nity at Brown and beyond.  It’s well beyond time to reject these divi­sive tactics.

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March 18, 2016 9

Seeking Justice: The Pardon of Leo Frank

This week marks the 30th anniver­sary of a sig­nif­i­cant event in ADL his­tory – the deci­sion by the Geor­gia State Board of Par­dons and Paroles to posthu­mously par­don Leo Frank.  Frank was the Jew­ish man­ager of an Atlanta pen­cil fac­tory who was falsely accused and wrongly con­victed in August 1913 of the rape and mur­der of Mary Pha­gan, a 13-year-old girl who worked in the factory. leo-frank-anti-semitism

Anti-Semitism was ram­pant in the early 1900’s and Leo Frank’s trial attracted national atten­tion and sig­nif­i­cant press cov­er­age – includ­ing irre­spon­si­ble press out­lets that inflamed the pub­lic with base and sala­cious anti-Semitism.  The trial itself was infected with a pervasively-hostile and anti-Semitic atmos­phere – from the argu­ments of the pros­e­cut­ing attor­ney to furi­ous mobs shout­ing “Hang the Jew!” out­side the cour­t­house.  Leo Frank’s trial and con­vic­tion shocked and gal­va­nized the Amer­i­can Jew­ish com­mu­nity – and under­lined the impor­tance of the estab­lish­ment of the Anti-Defamation League, which was founded in Chicago in 1913 with a mis­sion to “to stop the defama­tion of the Jew­ish peo­ple and to secure jus­tice and fair treat­ment to all.”

Frank appealed his con­vic­tion – all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled 7 to 2, that Frank’s con­sti­tu­tional due process rights had not been vio­lated.  Jus­tices Oliver Wen­dell Holmes and Charles Evans Hughes strongly dis­sented:  “Mob law does not become due process of law by secur­ing the assent of a ter­ror­ized jury. “

After all appeals were exhausted, Geor­gia Gov­er­nor Geor­gia John M. Sla­ton reviewed the case and com­muted Frank’s death sen­tence to life impris­on­ment. That coura­geous deci­sion in June 1915, enraged many and sparked riots in the streets.  Two months later, a mob of armed men kid­napped Frank from his prison cell, drove him over 100 miles to Mari­etta (Mary Phagan’s home­town) and lynched him.

Leo Frank lynching

Efforts to vin­di­cate jus­tice for Leo Frank were strength­ened in 1982, when eighty-three-year-old Alonzo Mann, who ran errands in the fac­tory as a boy, came for­ward to announce that he had seen the fac­tory jan­i­tor car­ry­ing Mary Phagan’s body to the base­ment on the day of her death.  The jan­i­tor had threat­ened to kill him if he told any­one.  ADL’s Atlanta-based South­ern Coun­sel, Charles Wit­ten­stein and promi­nent immi­gra­tion lawyer and national ADL leader Dale Schwartz led a vig­or­ous legal cam­paign to clear Frank’s name.  And on March 11, 1986, those efforts were rewarded with a par­don.  The land­mark deci­sion, how­ever, did not exon­er­ate Frank and prove his inno­cence.  Instead, Geor­gia par­doned Frank because of their fail­ure to pro­tect him and bring his mur­der­ers to justice.

 It’s hard to imag­ine a trial steeped in such anti-Semitism or racism today, but our nation is far from free of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant dis­crim­i­na­tion and hate crimes.  Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. famously said:  “The arc of the moral uni­verse is long, but it bends towards jus­tice.”  The anniver­sary of Leo Frank’s par­don is teach­able moment and a reminder that the arc does not bend by itself – peo­ple striv­ing for equal­ity and jus­tice – even jus­tice, delayed – need to bend it.

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March 17, 2016 2

Tennessee Legislation Supports Church-State Separation in Public Schools

Tennessee’s state leg­is­la­ture is not known for mov­ing for­ward leg­is­la­tion strength­en­ing the wall sep­a­rat­ing church and state.  But ear­lier this week that is pre­cisely what it did by pass­ing a bill that man­dates con­sti­tu­tional safe­guards in teach­ing about reli­gion in pub­lic schools.

In recent years, the state leg­is­la­ture has enacted mul­ti­ple bills that pro­mote major­ity reli­gious views and under­mine the sep­a­ra­tion prin­ci­ple: a bill des­ig­nat­ing the Holy Bible as the offi­cial state book; back­door school prayer leg­is­la­tion; a mea­sure requir­ing post-secondary schools to sup­port stu­dent clubs that exclude mem­bers based on reli­gion; and a so-called “Aca­d­e­mic Free­dom Act,” which opens the door to teach­ing intel­li­gent design – a form of cre­ation­ism – in the pub­lic schools.

Flag_of_the_General_Assembly_of_Tennessee.svg

Based on this his­tory, the pas­sage of House Bill 1905, “An act rel­a­tive to … the inclu­sion of reli­gion in instruc­tion and cur­ricu­lum,” at first glance seems incon­sis­tent and sur­pris­ing.  The impe­tus for the bill, how­ever, mit­i­gates that incon­sis­tency.  It was filed in response to claims that a mid­dle school social stud­ies cur­ricu­lum crossed the con­sti­tu­tional line between teach­ing about and indoc­tri­nat­ing Islam.  No sim­i­lar claims were made about the course’s cov­er­age of other faiths includ­ing, Chris­tian­ity, Bud­dhism, Judaism, Con­fu­cian­ism, Dao­ism, and African religions.

Despite the ques­tion­able moti­va­tion behind the bill, on paper it is ben­e­fi­cial.  It cod­i­fies long­stand­ing con­sti­tu­tional stan­dards  by stat­ing that “[t]he inclu­sion of reli­gion in text­books, instruc­tional mate­ri­als, cur­ricu­lum, or aca­d­e­mic stan­dards shall be for edu­ca­tional pur­poses only and shall not be used to pro­mote or estab­lish any reli­gion or reli­gious belief.”  Most sig­nif­i­cantly, it requires “[t]eacher train­ing insti­tu­tions” to pro­vide can­di­dates with instruc­tion and strate­gies on how to teach about reli­gion in a con­sti­tu­tion­ally per­mis­si­ble manner.

Our nation’s pub­lic schools are for all chil­dren regard­less of their faith.  In the­ory, HB 1905’s safe­guards should make Ten­nessee pub­lic schools more wel­com­ing and inclu­sive.  How­ever, in light of the state legislature’s his­tory and the rea­sons behind this bill, ADL has con­cerns that its pro­tec­tions will only be applied in teach­ing about minor­ity faiths.

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