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August 18, 2015 0

Reactions to the Jerusalem Gay Parade Stabbing

Almost three weeks after the stab­bing attack dur­ing Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade, which left six­teen year old Shira Banki dead, Israeli soci­ety is engaged in a con­tin­u­ing soul search­ing over the attack and the sta­tus of Israel’s LGBT community.

Israel has a vibrant LGBT com­mu­nity and it cel­e­brates in its strong record of free­doms and pro­tec­tions.  Nonethe­less, there are clear homo­pho­bic ele­ments in Israeli society.

Yishai Schlis­sel, the parade stab­ber – who had pre­vi­ously attacked a pride parade in 2005 – is a mem­ber of the ultra-orthodox com­mu­nity in Bnei Brak.  While acknowl­edg­ing that there is homo­pho­bia among reli­gious Jews in Israel, atti­tudes toward the LGBT com­mu­nity are not monolithic.

Credit: Ludovic Bertron

Credit: Ludovic Bertron

Accord­ing to a Haaretz report, a group of ultra-orthodox Jews from Bnei Brak reached out to the LGBT com­mu­nity and met with their rep­re­sen­ta­tives at the Gay Com­mu­nity Cen­ter in Tel Aviv.  Although the Ultra-Orthodox par­tic­i­pants decided to stay anony­mous, the impor­tance of the dia­logue and the dis­cus­sion lay in the fact that it took place and was reported in the press. Such an unmedi­ated encounter enables know­ing each other on the basis of open­ness and an attempt to accept the other – a pos­i­tive sign after the dark events.

On the other side of the spec­trum came the much pub­li­cized com­ments of Beza­lel Smotrich, an ultra-nationalist and a mem­ber of Knes­set from the Jew­ish Home Party, who serves as Deputy Knes­set Speaker.  Over the years Smotrich has made numer­ous anti-gay state­ments, and has described him­self as a “proud homo­phobe.”  Days after the attack, he referred to gay pride events as “abom­i­na­tion parade” (a term he has used before).  In an inter­view he gave a few days ago on Galei Israel radio, Smotrich said: “There are a lot of gays in the media and they decide for us what to think and what to say.” Smotrich said that their “con­trol” of the media has cre­ated legit­i­macy and pub­lic sup­port for them. I am con­fi­dent that 95% of Israelis want their chil­dren to raise a model fam­ily and have grand­chil­dren. That’s what a healthy, nor­mal per­son wants… These peo­ple have enor­mous power in shap­ing our con­scious­ness. They num­ber dozens of dom­i­nant peo­ple. So nat­u­rally, peo­ple can’t hear a voice like mine and when I speak to the media, I’m cut off after half a sen­tence and I sound deluded because I’m unable to explain myself.”

Jew­ish Home head and Edu­ca­tion Min­is­ter, Naf­tali Ben­net, responded, “I reject these state­ments with dis­gust…” and many oth­ers rose to con­demn Smotrich.  Mean­while, Ometz, an orga­ni­za­tion whose mis­sion is to pro­mote eth­i­cal gov­er­nance, is ask­ing the Knes­set Ethics com­mit­tee to review Smotrich’s comments.


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July 3, 2015 2

Yes, Justice Thomas, the Government Can Deprive People of Dignity

The word “dig­nity” appears 30 times in last week’s Supreme Court mar­riage equal­ity case, Oberge­fell v. Hodges. Describ­ing the same-sex cou­ples who aspired to marry, Jus­tice Anthony Kennedy, writ­ing for the 5–4 major­ity, stated:

Their hope is not to be con­demned to live in lone­li­ness, excluded from one of civilization’s old­est insti­tu­tions. They ask for equal dig­nity in the eyes of the law. The Con­sti­tu­tion grants them that right. supreme-court-civil-rights




In a bit­ter dis­sent, Jus­tice Clarence Thomas demurred, stat­ing that “the Con­sti­tu­tion con­tains no ‘dig­nity’ Clause.” He argued that the gov­ern­ment is “inca­pable of bestow­ing dig­nity,” stat­ing flatly that” human dig­nity can­not be taken away by the government.”

Aston­ish­ingly, Jus­tice Thomas then attempted to prove his dubi­ous propo­si­tion by cit­ing two extreme and rep­re­hen­si­ble gov­ern­ment actions that were actu­ally designed to deprive vic­tims of “equal dig­nity under the law” – slav­ery and the incar­cer­a­tion of Amer­i­cans of Japan­ese descent dur­ing World War II:

Slaves did not lose their dig­nity … because the gov­ern­ment allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in intern­ment camps did not lose their dig­nity because the gov­ern­ment con­fined them.

But the gov­ern­ment did not “allow” blacks to be enslaved – the laws of the time facil­i­tated and empow­ered slave own­ers and enforced slavery.

And the Japan­ese Amer­i­can Cit­i­zens League was rightly “appalled” by Jus­tice Thomas’ blind­ness to the impact of the government’s shame­ful and unwar­ranted forcible relo­ca­tion and incar­cer­a­tion of 120,000 Amer­i­cans of Japan­ese descent, the vast major­ity of whom were citizens.

In 1942, just 10 weeks after the sur­prise attack on Pearl Har­bor, Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt issued his Exe­cu­tion Order 9066, pro­vid­ing the legal author­ity for this depri­va­tion of lib­erty and dig­nity. Roosevelt’s exec­u­tive action was issued against the back­drop of wide­spread, base­less fears that Amer­i­cans of Japan­ese ances­try might pose a threat to the U.S – anx­i­ety that was cer­tainly fed by a long his­tory of prej­u­dice and xeno­pho­bia direct against Japan­ese Americans.

Those incar­cer­ated in the camps were uprooted from their com­mu­ni­ties, sep­a­rated from their fam­i­lies, their homes, and their pos­ses­sions, and lost their per­sonal lib­er­ties and free­doms until the end of the war.

Trag­i­cally, the president’s exec­u­tive order was bol­stered by addi­tional con­gres­sional enact­ments. And when the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of these actions was chal­lenged in two main cases before the U.S. Supreme Court – Hirabayashi v. U.S. andKore­matsu v. United States – the Court held that these clearly dis­crim­i­na­tory actions by the gov­ern­ment were, in fact, jus­ti­fied and constitutional.

Now, 73 years later, the Anti-Defamation League uses the cruel and unwar­ranted wartime treat­ment of Amer­i­cans of Japan­ese descent as a teach­able moment for our nation on the dan­gers of stereo­typ­ing, prej­u­dice, and racial pro­fil­ing. While we can honor and admire indi­vid­u­als that can retain their per­sonal dig­nity under the most adverse con­di­tions, there should be no doubt, Jus­tice Thomas, that the gov­ern­ment can deprive peo­ple of their “equal dignity.”

For­tu­nately, a Supreme Court major­ity has now held that the Con­sti­tu­tion man­dates that same-sex cou­ples are enti­tled to equal treat­ment – and mar­riage equality.

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June 30, 2015 2

The Time Is Now: Bringing LGBT Topics into the Classroom

Wikicommons/InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA

Wikicommons/InSapphoWeTrust from Los Ange­les, Cal­i­for­nia, USA

Over the past few years, our coun­try has made enor­mous strides on mar­riage equal­ity and as of June 26, 2015, mar­riage equal­ity is the law of the land in all 50 states. On that day, the Supreme Court of the United States held that that the 14th Amend­ment requires a state to license a mar­riage between two peo­ple of the same sex and to rec­og­nize mar­riages law­fully per­formed in other juris­dic­tions. Sixty-one per­cent of Amer­i­cans sup­port mar­riage equality.

Has our coun­try reached the tip­ping point?  Are we ready to bring LGBT top­ics into our cur­ricu­lum and classrooms?

Con­sider the num­bers. Accord­ing to the 2010 Cen­sus, there are approx­i­mately 594,000 same-sex cou­ple house­holds liv­ing in the U.S. and more than 125,000 of those house­holds include nearly 220,000 chil­dren under age 18.  Fur­ther, there are as many as 6 mil­lion Amer­i­can chil­dren and adults who have an LGBT par­ent. With the Supreme Court rul­ing, all U.S. res­i­dents live in a state with mar­riage equality.

In addi­tion to the chil­dren of same-sex cou­ples attend­ing our schools, there are stu­dents who them­selves iden­tify as les­bian, gay, trans­gen­der and bisex­ual and/or who don’t con­form to tra­di­tional gen­der norms. Many of these stu­dents suf­fer teas­ing, bul­ly­ing, harass­ment, vio­lence and inter­nal­ized oppres­sion that can lead to risky behav­ior and even sui­cide. Almost half of all ele­men­tary stu­dents say they hear com­ments like “that’s so gay” or “you’re so gay” from other kids at school and 75% of LGBT mid­dle and high school stu­dents report being ver­bally harassed because of their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. The good news is that these stu­dents also report bet­ter school expe­ri­ences when pro-active sup­ports and resources are in place.

There are gay and les­bian edu­ca­tors in our schools but many don’t feel safe to be “out” to their stu­dents and the school com­mu­nity. LGBT teach­ers do not have the same priv­i­lege that het­ero­sex­ual teach­ers have to talk about their partners/spouses and other core aspects of their lives and the school cli­mate can be down­right hos­tile towards them. There have been recent cases of teach­ers get­ting fired because of their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. Some states have laws that pro­hibit dis­crim­i­na­tion on the basis of sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­tity but most do not. Fed­eral leg­is­la­tion (ENDA) has been pro­posed to address this prob­lem but it has stalled in Con­gress. Even teach­ers in states with legal pro­tec­tions aren’t nec­es­sar­ily com­fort­able com­ing out because admin­is­tra­tors can find ways to fire them.

For chil­dren and teenagers, just know­ing a gay teacher can be a pow­er­ful expe­ri­ence; it gives them the oppor­tu­nity to know, admire and care about some­one who is LGBT.

Given that our schools are pop­u­lated with chil­dren of same-sex fam­ily house­holds, LGBT stu­dents and gay and les­bian teach­ers, it is time to bring this topic into our nation’s schools and class­rooms in a com­pre­hen­sive way.  It is an oppor­tu­nity to expand young people’s con­cepts of fam­ily, dis­cuss mar­riage equal­ity, infuse the cur­ricu­lum with LGBT peo­ple and their his­tory and accom­plish­ments and address bias-based bul­ly­ing for kids who iden­tify as LGBT or are per­ceived as such.

For young chil­dren, fam­ily is cen­tral to the cur­ricu­lum; there­fore, dis­cussing same-sex house­hold fam­i­lies should be inte­gral to the con­ver­sa­tion. This “nor­mal­izes” instead of mar­gin­al­izes chil­dren in same-sex house­holds.  Chil­dren in those fam­i­lies need to feel com­fort­able talk­ing about their own fam­i­lies and when those fam­i­lies are not rep­re­sented in class­rooms, teach­ers can share their sto­ries through children’s books and discussions.

As chil­dren move into upper ele­men­tary and mid­dle school, teach­ers can incor­po­rate con­ver­sa­tions about gen­der, gen­der norms, kinds of fam­i­lies and LGBT peo­ple and iden­tity. Stu­dents can be taught about mar­riage equal­ity and the road to the Supreme Court ruling.

Bul­ly­ing, espe­cially identity-based bul­ly­ing for LGBT or gen­der non-conforming stu­dents, should be dis­cussed not only when an inci­dent occurs but reg­u­larly. Children’s lit­er­a­ture con­tin­ues to be a pos­i­tive way to under­stand and empathize with LGBT peo­ple and families.

In the mid­dle and high school years as stu­dents emerge into ado­les­cence, the con­ver­sa­tions about iden­tity can con­tinue and sto­ries of LGBT peo­ple can be explored and infused into the every­day teach­ing and learn­ing. Read­ing young adult books with LGBT char­ac­ters and inte­grat­ing the accom­plish­ments of LGBT peo­ple into social stud­ies are encour­aged. Dur­ing the teen years, bul­ly­ing around sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion can be bru­tal and teach­ers should max­i­mize oppor­tu­ni­ties to dis­cuss it directly.

In 2011 Cal­i­for­nia passed a law requir­ing edu­ca­tors to teach gay and les­bian his­tory. On the other side, eight states cur­rently have “no promo homo” laws which for­bid teach­ers from dis­cussing LGBT peo­ple and issues in a pos­i­tive light and some pro­hibit dis­cussing the topic at all. Because schools are cen­tral to any com­mu­nity, address­ing LGBT top­ics will make our schools safer and more inclu­sive and will begin to curb the mar­gin­al­iza­tion of LGBT peo­ple for the present and for future generations.





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