A Defense of Political Animals’s Portrayal of the Gay Son

Blogger Rich Dweck, author of the blog Jewish Gay Elephant, wrote a blog post the other day about the portrayal of the gay son in USA’s mini-series Political Animals, who, in the show, is portrayed as a recovering alcoholic, drug addict, and suicidal. Dweck criticizes the show, and asks why the gay son is portrayed this way, as opposed to his older, straight brother, who is beginning his career in politics and engaged.

Although the mini-series just premiered this week and is expected to run for, I believe, five more episodes, I think I can see why. The central character in the show — the former First Lady and current Secretary of State, played really well by Sigourney Weaver — briefly mentions the hardships and tribulations that her younger son had to go through as a result of being the first openly gay First Son. While it might be nice, on the outset, to have the gay son to endure whatever he had to endure to come out of the closet in a environment which certainly wasn’t conducive to doing so and emerging from that with a burgeoning career as a civil servant, I think this gives the younger son much more room to develop as a character.

Whether or not a six-episode mini-series provides enough time to develop a character  that much is up for debate, and I’m not sure if it is — but that’s a different issue entirely.

From a writer’s standpoint, being gay is an easy segue into being a drug addict and lost, whereas having the gay son succeed while his straight brother is failing would require the writers of the show to produce a completely new storyline for the straight brothers. However, I think this goes a little deeper Dweck points out that now, when queer people are becoming increasingly vocal and are afforded more opportunities than ever before, it is imperative to portray queer characters on television as equally successful.

To me, though, this seems to be strikingly similar to many of the complaints about Chris Colfer’s portrayal of Kurt on the television show Glee before he was joined by a host of queer characters. Colfer, many said, was portraying the only gay character on the show as “too gay,” and was painting the LGBT+ community, and in particular gay men, as a certain group of stereotypes that — let’s face it here — many gay men do perpetuate. Instead, many said, Colfer should be portraying a gay character that was less stereotypically gay to show that the LGBT+ community is really no different than the heterosexual community.

One of the issues I took up with this at the time, though, was the fact that while there is a time and place to show that we of the LGBT+ community is no different than our straight counterparts, television shows are not necessarily the place to do it, least of all in a show like Glee, where originality and deviation from the norm is actively encouraged (just look at The Glee Project). Additionally, Colfer’s portrayal of Kurt as actively perpetuating just about  every gay stereotype that I can think of put him in the unique position to show the world the types of problems that gay teenagers face in the process of accepting their sexuality, coming out of the closet, and dealing with bullying. In doing so, I believe, Glee helped highlight the problem that is bullying and the fact that it needs to be stopped.

I think the gay son in Political Animals is in a similar position. Today, Dweck’s right: there are successful members of the LGBT+ community out there, making names for themselves and showing the world that you can be queer and successful. People like Barney Frank, Ellen DeGeneres, Neil Patrick Harris, and David Levithan are all prime examples of that.

However, it’s equally important to note that coming out of the closet — and certainly not in the public way that the fictional gay son in Political Animals seems to have done — can drive people down a very different road that the aforementioned famous queer politicians, actors, and authors and the success that they built up to. In making the gay son the drug-addicted, suicidal, and recovering alcoholic person he is, the show is highlighting the fact that not every gay person ends up the same way as Ellen DeGeneres. For some, the troubles they face as a result of coming out of the closet does lead them down the path to drugs and suicide, as has been pointed out by the numerous and tragic suicides of queer teens in the past year. Depressing though it may be, Political Animals is showing the darker and still prevalent side to coming out of the closet. In doing so, it might highlight the fact that, although it is getting better and easier to come out of the closet, there is still this aspect to it, and that aspect needs to change. Or, rather, we need to change to make sure that queer people coming out of the closet do not end up the same way the gay son in Political Animals did.

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.

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.