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June 20, 2016 5

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 0

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 8

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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