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June 20, 2016

LGBT Communities at Risk: Another Case for Immigration Reform

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This blog originally appeared on Medium

The assault on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Orlando last weekend that left 49 dead and more than 50 wounded in its wake was in many ways unprecedented and, in many others, far too familiar. It was the deadliest mass public shooting in American history. And it shattered sacred moments of multiple communities.

First and foremost, it violated Pride Month, designated as the time of year when LGBT people and their allies can celebrate their difference. The violence occurred during the weekend when we marked the Jewish festival of Shavuot — the culmination of a 49-day count between our festival of liberation from slavery in Egypt and the moment when the Jews remember receiving the wisdom of our holy Torah at Mount Sinai. And the attack tore at the peace of Ramadan, when Muslims seek to be closer to God and to focus on their inner selves.

All of the Abrahamic religions are rooted in texts that pave the way to peace. It is in these times that we must find those strands of faith which bind us together. Already, many faith communities have come together in cities across the country, united in grief, standing in solidarity with the LGBT community, and looking for answers as to how a lone gunman with hatred in his heart could wreak such devastation.

But even in this moment, we must take note that it is not just in this country where the LGBT community is at risk. Across the globe, LGBT people face persecution, legalized discrimination, and the threat of both state-sanctioned violence and brutality at the hands of non-state actors.

Across the globe, LGBT people face persecution, legalized discrimination, and the threat of both state-sanctioned violence and brutality at the hands of non-state actors.

We have seen the members of the Islamic State terrorist group (ISIS) literally throw individuals from rooftops, simply for being suspected of the “crime” of being gay. Hamas executes individuals without trial for the same “offense.”The Islamic Republic of Iran also has been known to hang young men suspected of homosexuality.

The violence in Orlando and the elevated risk of violence that LGBT people face around the world cannot be separated. There is some debate about the motives of the gunman, Omar Mateen. During the crime, he claimed allegiance to ISIS and his apparent homophobia is consistent with their bigoted teachings. At the same time, some have claimed he was wrestling with his own repressed sexual identity.

Whatever the cause, according to the U.S. Office for Refugee Resettlement, an estimated 3,500 LGBT refugees land on our shores every year, seeking to escape torment in their homelands. This also is true of the millions of Muslims fleeing the brutality tearing apart their homelands, such as the civil war in Syria or the destruction of Iraq. They are not alone — we also see other embattled minorities, including Christians from the Middle East and abused women from around the world coming to our shores, seeking refuge from violence and oppression.

As we pause and consider World Refugee Day, our common humanity and Jewish values compel us to hear their cries and embrace these victims.

The notions espoused by certain public figures of refusing refuge to the downtrodden, or rejecting widows and children at our borders simply because of the sins of a handful of their co-religionists, is not a policy. It’s a travesty, an affront to all notions of decency. We can do better on behalf of those who have lost everything.

To date, the trickle of such refugees permitted entry into this country pales in comparison to the scores of millions who come to our shores every year through business and tourism visas. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Stateapproved 10.8 million nonimmigrant travel visas, as compared to 531,463 immigrant visas.

Nonetheless, we should strengthen the screening processes to ensure that those who come to our shores are legitimate refugees who need our support. And individuals hailing from illiberal democracies undoubtedly need education and integration to mainstream them into our liberal democracy to ensure they embrace and understand our civic culture and common values.

On this day, as we acknowledge and elevate the plight of refugees around the world, let us root our work in chesed, the Jewish value of benevolence and compassion. Let us remind ourselves that we were once strangers, as we are told in the Torah and as we have experienced throughout history.

Let us remind ourselves that we were once strangers, as we are told in the Torah and as we have experienced throughout history.

We can anchor this approach in the enduring words of Emma Lazarus, inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor; Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free….” And we can galvanize this commitment by reclaiming what the terrorist attempted to take from us in Orlando — our common humanity.

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June 16, 2016

Charleston Anniversary: We Mourn, We Act

One year ago, on June 17, 2015, a white supremacist murdered nine parishioners at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.   It’s terrible – and unfair – that the quiet space in time we should have had to reflect and properly mourn these murders targeting African-Americans has been literally blown apart by another tragedy – even larger in scale – involving the deliberate targeting of members of the LGBTQ community in Orlando this past weekend.

We can and must grieve for the victims of the heartless white supremacist who murdered nine people who had welcomed him into prayer,

communion, and fellowship.   We can and must mourn the victims in Orlando celebrating life during Pride Month and Latino Night.

And:  we can do more than stand in solidarity and mourn.

On this anniversary, after a weekend of bias-motivated mayhem, we should rededicate ourselves to ensuring that we, as a nation, are doing all we can to fight hate and extremism.

1)     Law enforcement authorities are now investigating what role – if any – radical interpretations of Islam played in inspiring the Orlando murderer to act — and that work is clearly justified.  But we must recognize and pay attention to extremism and hate coming from all sources – including white supremacists, like the murderer in Charleston.

2)     Charleston and Orlando are further evidence that firearms are more pop­u­lar than ever as the deadly weapons of choice for Amer­i­can extrem­ists. We must end limitations on federal research on gun violence – and make it more difficult to obtain firearms through increased waiting periods, safety restrictions, and limitations on purchases – especially of assault-style weapons.   None of these steps will certainly prevent the next gun-toting mass murderer – but, as President Obama said, “to actively do nothing is a decision as well.”

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Photo Credit: Cal Sr via Flikr

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.
Photo Credit: Cal Sr via Flikr

3)     We need more inclusive and extensive laws in place to combat violence motivated by hate and extremism.  On the state level, though 45 states and the District of Columbia have hate crime laws, a handful of states – including South Carolina – do not (the others are Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, and Wyoming).  ADL and a broad coalition of three dozen national organizations have formed #50 States Against Hate to improve the response to all hate crimes, with more effective laws, training, and policies.

And, though hate crime laws are very important, they are a blunt instrument – it’s much better to prevent these crimes in the first place.  Congress and the states should complement these laws with funding for inclusive anti-bias education, hate crime prevention, and bullying, cyberbullying, and harassment prevention training programs.

4)     And finally, let us resolve to more fiercely resist unnecessary and discriminatory laws, like North Carolina’s HB 2, that deprive individuals of the opportunity to live their lives in dignity, free from persecution because of their race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

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May 23, 2016

Defense Authorization Act Moves Forward With Discriminatory Provision

Congress standing

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act for 2017 (“NDAA”), inclusive of a broad, discriminatory provision sponsored by Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK). This provision, offered in the name of “religious freedom,” would allow religiously affiliated federal contractors and grantees to discriminate against women, any religious group, and LGBT people with taxpayer dollars.

During House’s debate on the NDAA, Rep. Sean Maloney (D-NY) offered a narrowing amendment which would have protected the Obama Administration’s ban on LGBT discrimination in federal contracting. That amendment failed on chaotic 212-213 vote during which Republican leaders took the extraordinary step of allowing voting to continue after time had expired and pressured a handful of their Members to change their votes.

The Anti-Defamation League was one of 84 civil rights and religious organizations that submitted a coalition letter to Congress in opposition to the Russell Amendment.

Religiously affiliated groups historically have played an important role in addressing many of our nation’s most pressing social needs, as a complement to government-funded programs.   However, faith-based groups should not use taxpayer dollars to discriminate on the basis of religion.  And no one should be disqualified from a job under a federal contract or grant because of his or her sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or religion.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has approved its version of the NDAA without the Russell Amendment.  Moving forward, ADL and our coalition partners will continue to oppose the Russell Amendment and advocate for its exclusion from the final version of the NDAA.

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