On the Difference Between Being Pro-Gay and Indifferent

Earlier this week, as LGBTQNation reports, Chuck Norris published an article in AmmoLand.com (the full text of the article can be found here) that claimed that Obama was working to create a “pro-gay” Boy Scouts of America; he claims that there have been too many coincidences that correspond to Obama’s increasingly pro-marriage equality stance and James Tunley’s (the CEO of Ernst & Young and the only member of the board Boy Scouts’ board to say that gays should be allowed into the BSA) announcement.

As a bit of background, the Boy Scouts have repeatedly stated that openly gay scouts cannot serve as role models most recently in February 2002 (the text of this resolution can be found here), although they have never been explicitly banned from the BSA.

First, I should point out that, in the same press release cited above, the Boy Scouts said that they have a duty to instill values in youth, and that an “[A]vowed homosexual” cannot serve as an appropriate role model for the youth that go through the BSA. According to Norris, the Boy Scouts of America can reserve the right, under the First Amendment, to deny gays, atheists, and agnostics the right to serve as role models or leaders in the BSA (according to the press release, this is not something that can be decided by individual scout chapters).

It’s here that, I guess, would be a good place to differentiate between being “pro-gay” and being indifferent and treating everyone with the same equal rights that should be afforded them.

This blog, I would say, is “pro-gay.” In it, I explicitly advocate on behalf of the LGBT+ community, and advocate for equal rights for gay and lesbian couples, be it in regards to civil marriage or in a religious setting (like a synagogue). I do so unabashedly. In comparison, allowing openly gay scouts to serve as role models for younger leaders would not, in any way, shape, or form, endorse the LGBT+ community. It would be sending out the message that sexual orientation has nothing to do with one’s ability to instill traditional virtues into younger scouts — values such as integrity and equality, which I think are traditional leaders for anyone and everyone. Allowing LGBT+ scouts to serve as role models would not, in any way, say that scouts should march in Pride Parades or go partying in gay bars. It would simply show that effective role models and leaders are judged by the content of their character as opposed as whom they love. That’s not being “pro-gay” — that’s not even special treatment. That’s just being indifferent.

If the Boy Scouts of America wanted to be “pro-gay,” they would create programming specifically geared toward including LGBT+ scouts or funding programming for LGBT+ students. If they wanted to be “pro-gay,” they would create medals and awards for LGBT+ scouts and specifically for them. Allowing openly LGBT+ scouts to assume leadership roles within the BSA would not, in any way, be endorsing the LGBT+ community — instead, it would be showing that sexual orientation is not something that affects the virtues necessary for leadership within the BSA. In fact, showing younger scouts that sexual orientation is not something that is used as a factor in determining a leader would be sending out the message to younger scouts that it, too can be the same character-molding experience that it has been for so many other people before them, people like former President John F. Kennedy, who had this to say about the Boy Scouts of America at their 50th anniversary (this text comes from the same article that Norris wrote):

It has helped to mold character, to form friendships, to provide a worthwhile outlet for the natural energies of growing boys and to train these boys to become good citizens of the future. In a very real sense, the principles learned and practiced as Boy Scouts add to the strength of America and her ideals.

These ideals are not preserving the Bible or religion. These ideals are the creating of the Great American Melting Pot, a place where everyone was offered the same opportunity.

If the Boy Scouts of America really embody and encourage American ideals, then it is time for it to show that, so too, LGBT+ scouts have the same opportunity as their straight counterparts in the organization. If they truly to foster these American values, then they have the obligation to offer gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender scouts the opportunities for leadership and judging leaders based on their character, not on their sexual orientation.

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A Defense of Conservative Gays Endorsing Mitt Romney

Although I don’t personally endorse Romney — nor am I even old enough to vote — here’s my approach to why GOProud would continue to endorse Romney even after Obama announced he supported marriage equality, whereas Romney continues to refuse to.

This past Wednesday, conservative gay political group GOProud announced that it endorsed Romney for the 2012 upcoming presidential elections. The group said that they will continue to endorse Romney for his economic policies, although they do disagree with his social policies — namely, his refusal to endorse marriage equality or even domestic partnerships or civil unions.

As someone who has been on the more liberal side of politics from the time I could tell the difference (which coincided with the 2008 elections, where my middle school held a mock debate and elections and I was McCain — I won, by the way, in a 3:1 landslide victory. Many of my peers were crushed when the actual elections did not turn out the same way.),  I guess I owe it to myself to try and find a reason for why GOProud would endorse Romney.

Now, to be clear, the only reason that this is striking is specifically because Obama has recently announced his support of marriage equality. Before then, it really didn’t matter when it came to the presidential elections, as no candidate has ever before endorsed marriage equality.

While the presidential candidates that ran on the Republican tickets for the upcoming elections seem rather, shall we say, lackluster stances when it comes to marriage equality (with the notable exception of Ron Paul), it is important to note that marriage equality is not everyone’s top issue, even if they are themselves LGBT+ and would directly be affected by a president’s refusal to support marriage equality.

Second, and perhaps more convincing, there is a new and growing push among conservatives to support marriage equality. The reason cited by these conservatives is that supporting marriage equality is not necessarily in line with the Republican platform insofar as marriage equality would allow gays to vote, but, instead, it would fall directly under the libertarian belief of limiting government control over who does what in our country. By specifically refusing to support marriage equality, the theory continues, Republicans are contradicting the very libertarian beliefs that they have adopted for their economic policies. (This same libertarian philosophy, by the way, could also be applied to other social policies, such as abortion.)

Now, why don’t Republicans — specifically, Mitt Romney — support marriage equality? There are several reasons.

The first is the fact that the Republican Party, overall, is effectively in bed with the Christian right, which greatly inhibits their ability to support or endorse something that runs contrary to the Christian faith. Separation of Church and State aside, supporting marriage equality would leave the Republican Party without the support of the Christian right, leaving the Republican Party without a key group that has supported them for several decades, and leave that same key group that is the Christian right disenfranchised from the political system, which is something neither group would want — and Mitt Romney has caught so much flack for his Mormonism that it probably wouldn’t be a good idea for him to further alienate the Christian right.

The second and perhaps more pressing reason is the ever-increasing partisanship of American politics to the point that neither major party is willing to compromise on issues. Author and vlogger John Green of the Vlogbrothers did a vlog back in April about the lack of will on either side to compromise, citing the lapse of funding of the Federal Aviation Administration, Medicare, and highway planning as just a few examples of issues that one party refuses to let go of despite the need for reforms. The same holds true for marriage equality: as one party (the Democratic Party) becomes increasingly supportive of the idea, the other party (the Republican Party) will become increasingly hostile to the idea. In doing so, it will become more and more difficult to get anything passed in Congress, as the two parties are unable to agree on an issue and work together, across party lines, to resolve the issue. Instead, the two parties will continue bickering and refuse to let go of their stance, either for ideological reasons or out of fear of losing key supporters.

In that vein, in a way, it’s actually good that GOProud has endorsed Romney. By showing that the LGBT+ community can defy the stereotype of being politically liberal and endorsing a Republican (read: politically and socially conservative) candidate for this election, we can actually begin to bridge the gap of partisan politics and move toward finding a bipartisan issue to agree on and work together to solve. GOProud has shown us that, one day, we could make marriage equality a bipartisan issue and has shown the Republican Party that support of marriage equality does not preclude one from a political affiliation, nor does it force a person to define his or her political affiliation solely on the issue of marriage equality. One can only hope that other groups can bridge the gap left between the two political parties on other issues, too, or for other LGBT+ groups to endorse Republican candidates, thereby, in a way, forcing the two political parties to work together on the issue to make marriage equality legal on a federal level.

On Pinkwashing and Israel’s Human Rights Policies

After Tel Aviv was crowned the “Gay Capital” of the world (beating out New York, San Francisco, and Toronto, all of whom are considered to be the top of the “gay friendly” city scale), a new wave of anti-Israel sentiment emerged: the idea of “pinkwashing,” or Israel’s manipulation of its very good treatment of its LGBT+ population — cross-honoring same-gender marriages performed abroad (even though Israel itself does not perform them as per the Israeli Orthodox rabbinate), allowing same-gender couples to adopt, and even funding (at the city level) a youth center for queer teenagers in Tel Aviv — to mask the, what they often say, is the rampant violation of the rights of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Most recently, a group of LGBT+ Israeli teenagers was set to meet with the Seattle LGBT Commission, to discuss combating homophobia while touring the United States. However, Jason Kirchick reports on Haaretz, they were refused the meeting after Seattle University School of Law Assistant Professor Dean Spade, one of the leaders of the so-called “pinkwashing movement” said that such a meeting would only be reinforcing the pinkwashing done by Israeli society today.

The basis of Spade’s argument is that there is homophobia and transphobia present in both Israeli and Palestinian society, and the use of Israel’s acceptance of the LGBT+ community is an unfair portrayal of society and worsens the PR image of the Palestinian community at the same time.

(As an aside, the idea of pinkwashing is not unique to Spade — Aeyel Gross, a law professor at Tel Aviv University, also supports the anti-pinkwashing movement, as seen in a video from the AP that I cannot seem to find a direct link to right now, but can be found in slide 7 of the slideshow at the bottom of this article from the Huffington Post.)

This is true — there is, without a doubt, homophobia ever-present in Israeli society. And although I’ve only been in Israel for a brief week, I’ve spoken to several leaders of the LGBT+ movement while I attended this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., including one of the founding members of the Labor Party LGBT Circle, the LGBT+ faction of Israel’s Labor Party. While homophobia and rejection of the LGBT+ community does exist, particularly in regards to the religious right, Israel has never sanctioned the punishment of queer citizens for identifying as LGBT+ (as has been done in the territories).

Secondly, as Kirchick points out, no one before the rise of the pinkwashing movement has ever even tried to equate the occupation in the West Bank and Gaza with Israel’s (or the Palestinians’) acceptance of the LGBT+ community. The two are inherently separate issues, and, in my opinion, cannot be equated. While there is an occupation in the Palestinian territories — even Yossi Klein HaLeivi, an Israeli journalist to the right of the political spectrum admits this in an article for Foreign Affairs — there is no reason that Israel’s acceptance of the LGBT+ community should be used in the same equation as the occupation.

Additionally, as Queerty’s Dan Avery points out, the organizations sponsoring the meeting with the Seattle LGBT Commission, chiefly the Association of Israeli LGBT Educational Organizations (AILO for short), is a non-government organzation — it has absolutely no bearing on Israel’s foreign policy, particularly in relation to its treatment or regarding of the Palestinians living in the occupied territories. Additionally, this delegation was not travelling for political reasons — Avery points out, via A Wider Bridge — that the group was working with PFLAG boards and chapters on combating homophobia and acceptance by parents of LGBT+ children, and HIV prevention and treatment. By refusing to meet with the delegation, the Seattle LGBT Commission missed out on the opportunity to question the legitimacy of the group and even to discuss what can be done in relation to the LGBT+ Palestinian community or other civil rights issues in Israel (even though whether or not asking the delegation about other civil rights issues is subject to a debate that I’m not going to get into here).

However, by refusing to meet with the delegation of Israeli teenagers — many of whom might even disagree with their government’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — the Seattle LGBT Commission is sending out the message that we, as progressive Americans, cannot effectively enter any sort of discourse surrounding any issues revolving human rights in Israel, lest we lend legitimacy to the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. We are sending the message that the two issues are directly connected, even though, I’ll say it again: these are two separate issues that really have nothing to do with the other. You can criticize and praise a country simultaneously: I applaud President Obama’s signing the repeal of Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell, but criticize him for not having ended the Iraq War sooner. See? Was that so hard? By not meeting with the delegation, the Seattle LGBT Commission is sending out the message that some acceptance or social progress is worse than no progress.

An Open Letter to a Slightly Over-zealous Ally

Dear Slightly Over-zealous Ally,

First of all, thank you very, very much for your support of the LGBT+ community. It means a lot to me and to everyone out there that identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or vaguely-not-straight. And it’s amazing to see someone who is not LGBT+ be so vocal and supportive of the LGBT+ community in its pursuit for equality and recognition. We would never have gotten to where we are now without you, and we will not achieve our aforementioned goals of equality without your continued help.

However, you said one thing that I’m not sure I entirely agree with. You promised yourself that you will not get married until such a time when marriage equality is recognized in all fifty states, much like Jason Mraz and his fiancee Tristan Prettyman promised the press they would do.

Here’s the thing, though — while I, once again, applaud your effort to show your solidarity with the LGBT+ community, why would you deny yourself marriage? To me, this seems like poking your eyes out to show that you support people who are blind or cutting out your tongue to show you support people who are speech deficient. If anything, you should be getting married, now more than ever! You should be seizing the opportunity to marry now, and be vocal now, not when marriage is available in at least a few states.

To me, this is the same thing as being silent on the National Day of Silence, which is meant to show solidarity with LGBT+ (and other bullied) youth who cannot speak up and defend themselves. Why would you be quiet, when you can be vocal and advocate and defend these youth, if you can? Why, instead, would you chose to be silent when you can be vocal? Why would you chose to abstain from marriage simply because the government in your state (or, currently, the federal government) does not recognize the marital union of two members of the same gender as legitimate?

In early 2010, Sarah Silverman, an American writer, singer, actress, and musician, told The View that she would refuse to get married until same-sex marriage is legalized in all fifty states because it would be akin to joining a country club during the 1950s and 1960s that refused to allow African-Americans or Jews. I ask you: why, instead of refusing to join the club, would you not join the club and try to change it from within? Why, instead, refuse yourself the ability to enjoy the benefits of a country club entirely, when you can both be a member of the club and, at the same time, work within the country club to promote tolerance and acceptance?

The same applies for marriage. Refusing to marry as a heterosexual couple will not change anything. Getting married and being vocal about your support for marriage equality will cause change, even if in the smallest of ways.

So, in conclusion, I give you my express permission and blessing to get married to your future partner when you feel the time is right, and to not wait or abstain from marrying on my account — far be it from me to keep you from enjoying the rights that you and I both deserve, and far be it from me to keep you from enjoying the rights that you currently enjoy as a straight person. So please, show your solidarity with the LGBT+ community by getting married and by remaining a vocal ally of the LGBT+ community.

Thank you,

Amram

The Attempt to Queer Jewish Religious Spaces

An article published in the Huffington Post last week shed light on a new program led by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles which involves synagogues across denominations to take part in a pilot program that lasts for one year. The program involves members of the synagogue to participate in workshops that open up the synagogue in question to openly queer members, regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression, with the help of an outside representative from HUC-JIR.

While there do exist synagogues that are specifically created by and for queer Jews, such as Congregation Beth Simhat Torah in New York, Congregation Bet Haverim in Atlanta or Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco, there exist very few Orthodox synagogues that are LGBT-affirming. Indeed, many say that they are open and accepting, but those who (like me) identify as both LGBT and Orthodox often feel uncomfortable in an Orthodox setting because, even the most liberal accepted approaches, such as in the Statement of Princples from last year, employ the “love the sinner; hate the sin” policy: queer members should be accepted, but the act of homosexuality should be condemned.

With declining membership rates in synagogues — a phenomenon that is not unique to one denomination of Judaism — this seems, to me, not only to be an excellent way to boost membership, but to help include a community that has long felt on the fringe. However, I should point out that the article does not once mention an Orthodox synagogue (although the program is designed for all denominations); in fact, the article makes nary a mention of Orthodoxy with the exception of the beginning of the article, which portrays Orthodox synagogues as supporters of reparative therapy and woefully unwelcoming and to say that many Orthodox synagogues are actively not welcoming to LGBT members.

While this seems somewhat — well, okay, mostly — true, the article does not really reflect Orthodoxy or its movement to accept the LGBT movement. For example, Congregation Darkhei Noam in New York is an Orthodox-affiliated synagogue on the Upper West Side that has fully accepted the LGBT community, and has even allowed an openly gay couple to convert and name their baby. That having been said, there are no other fully-LGBT-affirming Orthodox synagogues that I know of personally (although I’ve been told that more exist), this still represents a significant shift in the Orthodox movement to accept the LGBT community in a way that’s not “love the sinner; hate the sin.” Additionally, the organizers of the program do not believe that the Orthodox movement will sign on to the new program, since the change has to come from the community; this is because most of the Orthodox movement still has yet to fully accept — or even want to accept — the LGBT community.

Well, that’s disappointing to hear, now, isn’t it?

One thing, though, that’s comforting (for me, at least) is that I’m not the only one who reads a mission statement for a synagogue that identifies as “open and accepting,” and interpret it as “open to everyone except gays.” Additionally, it’s high time that few congregations offer programming specifically geared toward LGBT members and couples or actively working to attract LGBT members and couples.

Fewer, still, are actively trying to engage LGBT teens, which is what probably hurts me the most.

That having all been said, this program is still a pilot, so it’s entirely within the realm of possibility than an Orthodox synagogue will join and create their own task force and partake in the program, although it seems highly unlikely, if even possible. Several synagogues are scheduled to complete the pilot program within the coming months, so we’ll have to see how exactly this plays out. Stay tuned!

Where are the LGBTQ Jews?

In an article by Mark Segal in LGBTQNation, Segal, the publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News, pondered the noted absence of LGBTQ Jews within the world of Jewish history. He writes:

Here’s the rub. Many of the most prominent pioneers of the LGBT community were Jewish; perhaps the most well known, Harvey Milk, does not even get a mention. In fact, in what might look like a backhanded insult to the LGBT community, there are two gay men in the museum’s Hall of Fame gallery — Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein — who are both closeted thanks to the [National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia], as neither of their displayed bios mentions it.

Not only is this discrimination by censorship, it reminds me of a time when, in the Jewish tradition, if you discovered something about a member of the family that was shameful, you didn’t talk about it.

It think that it’s important here to note that I do, also, fault the museum for not mentioning leaders in the LGBTQ movement through the twentieth century — Harvey Milk, as perhaps the most famous of these people is a prime example.

However, I do also think that Segal is slightly one-sided in his writing. While the museum is indeed at fault for never mentioning Milk or mentioning Sondheim’s or Bernstein’s connections to the queer community, this is a relic of the past era, like Segal dutifully notes.

While the museum in Philadelphia might be stuck in the past, the Jewish community itself — and, of course, the rest of the world — are warming up to the idea of Jewish LGBTQ heroes. Indeed, however, you can see all of the collaboration (collab, for short) channels of queer YoutTubers, and yet none of them, it seems, are openly Jewish. This was one of the reasons that I began and created my YouTube channel (the first video of the aforementioned channel was posted earlier today).

Regardless, however, there are organizations that exist today that serve to help LGBTQ Jews, organizations that are no doubt not mentioned within the aforementioned museum. These organizations — Keshet and Nehirim — are actively working to promote and advocate for LGBTQ Jews. Keshet recently launched a poster campaign that promotes the lives and legacies of Jewish LGBTQ figures, such as Harvey Milk and Kate Bronshtein.

The world — the Orthodox world — is changing, and changing rapidly. There are new articles, new petitions every week that advocate for both the expulsion of the queer Jews from the Jewish community and the inclusion by others. While the museum is a relic of an era where gay, lesbian, and bisexual Jews were shunned and ignored, that is something that is rapidly changing.

And so, I implore you, my readers, to understand that this museum is not representative of the Jewish world as a whole, nor is it representative of the Orthodox world as a whole. The facts are true, yes, but the implications are not. Orthodoxy is becoming more and more open, more and more accepting.