Tag Archives: Inclusiveness

The Credibility of Our Democracy

Like many of you, I’ve been frustrated, angered, and even dismayed as our election has unfolded this year. I’ve been pained by rhetoric that demeans individuals and communities, and worried about our future as a nation when the core values of our democracy are under attack.

As the director of a 501(c)(3) with an advocacy identity, I won’t make public endorsements of candidates. As an American I take pride in my ability to make the most sacred endorsement of all – by casting my vote. But on November 8th, when millions of Americans will head to the polls, many will be deliberately disenfranchised and denied their right to make that most important endorsement.

Since our nation’s founding, there has and continues to be an ebb and flow between those who seek to extend access to the ballot and those seeking to erect barriers to participation. As initially conceived, voting was a privilege of and for the advantaged. Slowly, access was broadened, with Constitutional amendments barring discrimination based on race (the 13th Amendment) and gender (the 19th Amendment). These guarantees barred explicitly racist or gender-based voting prohibitions, but outwardly discriminatory laws were rapidly replaced by provisions and practices that were ambiguous in their words but clear in their intent. It was not until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that the federal government extended meaningful safeguards to all citizens.

But despite the progress that has been made, there have been persistent attempts to chip away at the right to vote, relying on more innovative, but no less discriminatory justifications. Make no mistake; we are now witnessing a struggle for the soul of our democracy, as full access to voting is still very much under threat.

For the first time since 1965, in the wake of the recent Shelby Supreme Court decision, potential voters will not have access to the full protection of the Voting Rights ActFourteen states have enacted new voting restrictions for the 2016 elections.  One common restriction is the use of voter ID cards, enacted ostensibly to prevent fraud in elections. Getting an ID seems pretty easy: show your driver’s license or your passport – but, for millions of citizens across the country, this requirement operates as a bar to participation, disproportionately impacting seniors, immigrants, people of color and others who may not have the acceptable forms of identification readily available.

Study after study have shown that the pervasive myth of voter fraud is just that, and that voter ID laws wouldn’t even prevent the few documented and verified cases over the past several decades.  A recent study found that out of a pool of more than 1 billion ballots cast  in all federal, state and municipal elections between 2000-2014, there were only 31 instances in which issues could have been resolved by such a voter ID. Do we even need voter ID laws if fraud creates an imperceptible impact on any election? The United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, striking down part of North Carolina’s harshest voter ID laws offered a striking, yet unsurprising analysis: “the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision….” This is unacceptable, and, with our national network of JCRCs the Jewish Council of Public Affairs (JCPA) in Washington, we have joined with a bipartisan coalition of faith based and other partners to pass a new Voting Rights Act.

It is not merely discriminatory laws or policies that stand in the way of full participation in the electoral process. For many people with disabilities, it is a casual inaction that has left an estimated 3 million voters home during the last election.  A white paper commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation found that 73% of polling places had some potential barrier to voting. The study identified five recurring obstacles: (1) insufficient poll worker training; (2) access barriers to polls; (3) access barriers to registration or election materials; (4) stigma; and (5) limitations on information available to election officials. With the identification of these and other impediments, we are armed with the information and tools to solve these problems.

For the Jewish community, the struggle for voter rights has been a defining part of our social contract with this nation. We know that when one person is denied access to the equal protection and full enjoyment of our democracy, we all suffer the consequences.

In a year in which much noise has been made by some about the fairness of our election, it is the disenfranchisement of so many that raises the greatest threat to the credibility of our democracy. This season, and in the year to come, I hope you’ll join me in casting your lot with those leaders and organizations who reject these efforts and who are working together to repeal discriminatory laws and ensure access. By doing so, we will recommit ourselves to the path of expanding democracy that has made our nation ever greater since the days of our founders.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Massachusetts Jewish Organizations Thank Legislators For Their Support Regarding “An Act Relative to Transgender Anti-Discrimination”

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BOSTON (April 20, 2016) — Yesterday, representatives of KeshetADL, the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston presented letters thanking Massachusetts Senate President Stan Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert DeLeo for their longstanding support of “An Act Relative to Transgender Anti-Discrimination,” and urging swift action to pass this critical legislation.

Senate President Stan Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert DeLeo were also given a list of Jewish leaders and individuals, from across the Commonwealth and the United States. The signatories believe that the Jewish tradition affirms all people and that respecting all human dignity is the foundation of a just society.

Transgender people in Massachusetts cannot afford to wait any longer to be sure they can access public accommodations without fear of discrimination, harassment, and violence. Opponents of the legislation assert a supposed threat of transgender people in restrooms and locker rooms; however, but the reality in states, municipalities, and schools with similar legislation or policies proves this assertion to be is unfounded.

We thank Senate President Stan Rosenberg, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and the bill’s sponsors in the House and Senate, for their support of the transgender community in Massachusetts. It is past time that Massachusetts ensures the full dignity and safety of transgender people.

Seventeen school districts serving 600,000 students across the country reported no problems after implementing transgender-inclusive policies. These policies are aligned with the US Department of Education’s guidelines issued in April, 2014, clarifying that transgender students are protected under Title IX.

Conversely, transgender people are at a great risk of violence and harassment in public facilities, including bathrooms and locker rooms. According to recent research published by The Fenway Institute, 65% of transgender people surveyed in Massachusetts experienced discrimination in public accommodations, including verbal and physical harassment or assault.

The petition text is viewable at www.keshetonline.org/work/petition-in-support-of-full-transgender-rights-in-massachusetts/support-transgender-rights-in-ma/. A list of signatories to the petition can be seen atwww.keshetonline.org/work/petition-in-support-of-full-transgender-rights-in-massachusetts/.

Selected photos can be found at www.flickr.com/photos/keshet/albums/72157666821271260.

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Keshet is a national organization that works for full LGBTQ equality and inclusion in Jewish life. Led and supported by LGBTQ Jews and straight allies, Keshet cultivates the spirit and practice of inclusion in all parts of the Jewish community. Our work is guided by a vision of a world in which all Jewish organizations and communities are strengthened by LGBTQ-inclusive policy, programming, culture and leadership, and where Jews of all sexual orientations and gender identities can live fully integrated Jewish lives.

Contact: Joanna Ware, Boston Regional Director
617.524.9227, ext. 109
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Jeremy Burton’s Comments at Keshet’s OUTstanding! Gala

The following are comments as delivered by JCRC Executive Director Jeremy Burton at Keshet's Annual Awards Dinner.

THANK YOU DANA FOR THAT PRESENTATION.
AND THANK YOU KESHET, FOR HONORING JCRC TONIGHT.
PERSONALLY, KESHET IS MY COMMUNITY. MY LIFE HAS BEEN ENRICHED IN THE EIGHT YEARS I’VE BEEN PRIVILGED TO BE ON THIS BOARD WITH INCREDIBLE FRIENDS, INCLUDING DANA.

AND IT’S DEEPLY MEANINGFUL TO ME TO BE UP HERE TONIGHT FOLLOWING IDIT KLEIN, BARRY SHRAGE, AND NANCY KAUFMAN. BECAUSE OF KESHET ‘S WORK, AND CJP’S COMMITMENT TO A FULLY INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY, AND JCRC’S RELENTLESS PURSUIT OF A PUBLIC AGENDA OF EQUALITY – THESE THREE LEADERS HAVE ALL PAVED THE PATH THAT LED TO ME BEING ON THIS STAGE ON BEHALF OF JCRC.

TONIGHT HAS BEEN AN INCREDIBLE CELEBRATION–OF JCRC, AND OF THE KESHET COMMUNITY. BUT AS WE CELEBRATE, THERE’S A DARK CLOUD HANGING OVER OUR FESTIVITIES AND OVER OUR NATION:

A CLOUD OF HATE AND DISCRIMINATION.
PEOPLE ARE TELLING AMERICANS THAT TO DEAL WITH OUR CHALLENGES WE SHOULD TURN AGAINST EACH OTHER; THAT WE SHOULD BLAME MUSLIMS AND IMMIGRANTS. THAT WE SHOULD AVERT OUR EYES FROM THE CRISIS FACING –YOUNG MEN OF COLOR WHO ARE BEING CRIMINALIZED IN MASSIVE NUMBERS.

THAT WE SHOULD CIRCLE THE WAGONS AND FOCUS ONLY ON NARROWLY DEFINED SELF INTERESTS.

AND SOME IN THE JEWISH COMMUNITY ARE SAYING THAT ADDRESSING ANY OF THIS SUFFERING WILL DIMINISH OUR ABILITY TO ADDRESS ANTI-SEMITISM. WE ARE BEING TOLD TO BUILD WALLS BETWEEN COMMUNITIES, RATHER THAN STAND TOGETHER.

AND YES, NOT FOR THE FIRST TIME, THAT WE SHOULD BLAME THE LGBTQ COMMUNITY.

I’VE BEEN ASKED - TOO OFTEN: WHY DOES THE JEWISH COMMUNITY SPEAK OUT WITH SUCH FORCE IN SUPPORT OF OUR MUSLIM NEIGHBORS? AND WHY – AS WE SEE RISING ANTI-SEMITISM IN THE WORLD - ARE WE AT JCRC PRIORITIZING THE ACHIEVEMENT OF FULL TRANSGENDER RIGHTS?

I TELL PEOPLE THAT JCRC’S PURPOSE IS TO ADVANCE THE VALUES, INTERESTS AND PRIORITIES OF BOSTON’S ORGANIZED JEWISH COMMUNITY WITHIN A LARGER CIVIC CONVERSATION. WE’RE BRINGING– TO INTERFAITH SPACES AND TO THE STATE HOUSE – OUR COLLECTIVE VOICE AND OUR DETERMINATION TO ENSURE A STRONGER AND MORE EQUITABLE CIVIL SOCIETY.

OUR COMMITMENT TO ADVOCACY ON BEHALF OF ALL PEOPLE’S DIGNITY RUNS DEEP, ALL THE WAY BACK TO GENESIS. AS WE STRIVE FOR INCLUSION AND ACCESS FOR ALL, WE ARE REMINDED THAT IN OUR CREATION STORY WE ARE TAUGHT THAT EVERY HUMAN BEING IS CREATED B’TZELEM ELOHIM - IN THE DIVINE IMAGE.

AND SO WE ARE COMMITTED TO THE FULL REALIZATION OF EVERY SINGLE HUMAN BEING IN THE IMAGE OF THAT DIVINE CONCEPT.

WE BELIEVE THAT WITHOUT FULL INCLUSION, OUR COMMUNITIES CANNOT BE WHOLE, AND OUR MEMBERS CANNOT BE FREE.

I ALSO TELL THEM THAT THE JEWISH COMMUNITY HAS ALWAYS BEEN BEST SERVED WHEN OUR NATION DELIVERS ON THE PROMISE OF EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL PEOPLE.

WE ALL BENEFIT FROM A FREE SOCIETY WHERE THERE IS NO TOLERANCE FOR DISCRIMINATION OF ANY KIND, WHERE WE REMOVE THE OBSTACLES THAT STAND IN THE WAY OF OPPORTUNITY FOR EVERY ONE OF US.

WE KNOW THAT A CULTURE THAT DEMONIZES AND MARGINALIZES OTHERS THREATENS US AS WELL.
WE KNOW THAT A NATION THAT VALUES THE DIGNITY OF ALL PEOPLE IS ONE IN WHICH WE ALL THRIVE.
MARRIAGE EQUALITY WAS A GREAT ACHIEVEMENT FOR ALL OF US.

BUT THE STRUGGLE FOR LGBTQ EQUALITY DIDN’T END ON JUNE 26, 2015. CONVERSION “THERAPY,” IS STILL LEGAL IN MASSACHUSETTS. IN TOO MANY STATES WE CAN GET MARRIED, BUT WE CAN ALSO BE FIRED AND LOSE OUR HOUSING FOR DOING SO.

JCRC WAS PROUD TO STAND WITH OUR ALLIES IN 2011 WHEN GOVERNOR PATRICK SIGNED AN ACT RELATIVE TO GENDER IDENTITY, PROHIBITING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST TRANSGENDER PEOPLE IN EMPLOYMENT, HOUSING, AND VARIOUS SERVICES.

TODAY WE ARE WORKING TO PASS AN ACT RELATIVE TO TRANSGENDER ANTI-DISCRIMINATION, TO PATCH THE HOLES IN PUBLIC ACCOMMODATION PROTECTIONS THAT THE PREVIOUS BILL LEFT OPEN.

SIMPLY PUT, OUR ANSWER TO THIS DARK POLITICAL MOMENT – WHEN WE ARE BEING CALLED TO TURN ON EACH OTHER - IS TO INSTEAD TURN TOWARD ONE ANOTHER.
WE STAND FOR MORE DIGNITY, FOR MORE EQUALITY, FOR A BETTER NATION. AND WE BELIEVE THAT MASSACHUSETTS NEEDS TO LEAD.

THAT IS WHY, AGAIN, TONIGHT, WE CALL UPON GOVERNOR BAKER TO TELL THE PUBLIC WHERE HE STANDS ON THE PUBLIC ACCOMODATIONS BILL. AND WE THANK SENATE PRESIDENT STAN ROSENBERG FOR HIS VOCAL SUPPORT OF SB 735. AND WE CALL, AGAIN, FOR SPEAKER DELEO TO BRING HB 1577 TO A VOTE SO THAT THE GOVERNOR MUST MAKES HIS VIEWS KNOWN.

SIMPLY PUT: IF STATES LIKE NORTH CAROLINA AND MISSISSIPPI CAN RUSH TO ENACT DISCRIMINATION AGAINST THE LGBTQ COMMUNITY IN THIS ELECTION YEAR, THEN SURELY MASSACHUSETTS CAN TAKE ACTION TO FINALLY CLOSE THE HOLES WE LEFT FIVE YEARS AGO.

FINALLY, AGAIN, IT IS AN HONOR TO BE UP HERE ON BEHALF OF THIS ORGANIZATION THAT I AM PRIVILEGED TO LEAD.
BUT THIS AWARD IS NOT JUST FOR THOSE WHO WERE INVITED TO THE STAGE. THIS HONOR IS FOR THE COMMITMENT OF ALL OUR LEADERS – ACROSS A NETWORK OF AGENCIES – INCLUDING ADL AND JALSA WHO ARE ALSO PART OF THIS COALITION FOR TRANSGENDER RIGHTS - SYNAGOGUES, OUR PROFESSIONALS, AND OUR INCREDIBLE COMMUNITY, INCLUDING KESHET – WHO HAVE WORKED TO MAKE THESE VALUES OURS.

SO THANK YOU KESHET FOR HONORING JCRC TONIGHT AND FOR INSPIRING US TO ACTION. THIS AWARD IS AS MUCH FOR YOU AS FOR US.

TOGETHER WE WILL CONTINUE TO WORK AS ONE JEWISH COMMUNITY FOR INCLUSION AND EQUALITY.
THANK YOU.

A Step Forward for Inclusion

By Seth Goldberg, Government Affairs Associate

As you may recall, last July marked the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA gave civil rights to people with disabilities, making it illegal to discriminate based on disability in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications.

Allow me to borrow the words of Elana Margolis, Associate Director at JCRC, from a blog post she authored to commemorate that anniversary:

“I know that removing barriers is not the same as creating opportunities. Twenty-five years later, across the country, unemployment rates for people with disabilities are disproportionately high; accessible and adequate educational opportunities are hard to find; and, transportation options remain sorely lacking.”

By no means has the ADA resolved all the challenges people with disabilities face daily, but it has certainly changed America’s accessibility, attitude, and awareness.

At JCRC, we advocate for employment services and community supports for our Commonwealth’s residents with disabilities. We  join with so many wonderful organizations – like Gateways, the CJP Synagogue Inclusion Project, the Ruderman Family Foundation and others here in Boston,– working hard for a fully inclusive Jewish community.

Since I am in a borrowing mood, I’ll share the words of Jeremy Burton, JCRC’s Executive Director, from one of his recent weekly blog posts:

“For JCRC as a network of the organized Jewish community, our mission isn’t focused solely on inclusion within our Jewish community. We also look beyond our community, bringing our values into the broader civic discourse. Together with so many of you, we are committed to ensuring that every single person in our Commonwealth has the opportunity to live to his or her fullest potential, with dignity and hope.”

This commitment was clearly visible earlier this month when JCRC worked with our partners and the Massachusetts State Senate to pass two bills aimed at removing barriers for people with disabilities. Senate Bills 1323 and 2142, passed on March 3rd, expand the range of housing and employment opportunities for those living with disabilities throughout the Commonwealth.

Senate Bill 1323, which we are working to ensure is approved by the House of Representatives and signed by the Governor, brings Massachusetts and federal regulations into alignment — creating more accessible housing units and improving access to employee-only areas in the workplace. Thank you to our partners on this initiative - the Massachusetts Independent Living Centers, the MS Society, Disability Policy Consortium and Easter Seals.

Senate Bill 2142 would require the state's Supplier Diversity Office to develop standards to identify and recruit, with the intent to hire, qualified applicants with disabilities for employment in its office. In addition, the bill requires that all state employees involved in hiring decisions be trained and educated to the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

We are thrilled that the Senate also passed these additional bills that positively impact people living with disabilities:

  • Senate Bill 2140, an Act Eliminating Archaic Language Pertaining to Individuals with Disabilities in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
  • Senate Bill 2413, an Act Eliminating Health Disparities in the Commonwealth.
  • Senate Bill 2141, An Act Updating Terminology and Investigative Practices Related to the Protection of Persons with a Disability.

We are grateful for the leadership of Senator James Timilty, Senator Barbara L’Italien and Chair of Senate Ways and Means, Senator Karen Spilka.  Our efforts now turn to working with members of the House of Representatives to ensure swift action to pass these bills.

The Jewish commitment to advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities runs deep in our tradition and JCRC will continue to work with the disability community as staunch advocates for services, opportunities, and inclusion.