Tag Archives: LGBTQ

Freedom on the Ballot

 

Nahma Nadich

This week: a message from Deputy Director Nahma Nadich

Throughout my nineteen years at JCRC, I’ve had many proud moments when we’ve galvanized our community to act on our shared values of equality, justice, and freedom. We’ve participated in efforts to effect change and transform lives. Some of our campaigns have focused on improving the lives of members of our own community; others have been about standing with our brothers and sisters throughout Greater Boston and responding to their needs. One of my proudest moments was when we delivered profound benefits to members of our own community and beyond; when we were part of a successful campaign to secure one of our most fundamental rights – the freedom to marry.

In 2003, we were the first community relations council in the country to advocate for marriage equality, working closely with other Jewish organizations to leverage the influence of our community. Four years earlier, I had joined the staff of JCRC after years of practicing clinical social work in the LGBT community. The challenges my clients faced transcended their own psychological issues; they were up against a society (sometimes including their own families) that all too often denied their basic humanity.  Witnessing the courage and strength they summoned to embrace their identities, build vibrant chosen families and communities, and claim the joy that was rightfully theirs, filled me with awe. And now, I had the rare honor of organizing our community to right historic wrongs and effect systemic change, putting into motion a chain of events that would eventually result in a nationwide freedom to marry.

Successful  movements to effect social change – like the therapeutic work of personal change – begins with stories. We are moved to action, not by facts and figures but by accounts of lived experiences, from people we care about. In 2003, we at JCRC heard such stories, from those among us blocked from public recognition of their loving, committed relationships, and from parents concerned that their children’s dreams would never be realized.  We shared those stories to change hearts and minds, and ultimately, to change the law. And we did so with the broad consensus of the Jewish community and the full support of our Council.

Years later, we heard stories of discrimination, marginalization and assaults, from transgender members of our community and the friends and family who love them. Though the experiences of the trans community is distinct and different, with appallingly high rates of violent victimization, poverty and homelessness, we understood this issue to be resonant with JCRC’s overall commitment to LGBT rights. So once again, with the full endorsement of our Council, we sprang into action. In 2011, collaborating with partners in the Jewish and broader community, we advocated for a state law to add “gender identity” to the state’s non-discrimination laws in housing, employment, and education. And we won. But we knew that more was needed. In 2016 the transgender anti-discrimination bill was signed into law, extending protections for gender identity to any place of public accommodation.

Now those hard-won freedoms are in jeopardy. In just two weeks, we in Massachusetts will be voting on a ballot initiative to protect those freedoms, the first of its kind in the nation. The stakes are high. If the campaign to stoke fears and incite bigotry succeeds, an ominous precedent will be set, likely to unleash similar measures across the country. Putting the rights of a marginalized minority to a popular vote is a dangerous path, one that will inevitably result in a tyranny of the majority.

So we are listening carefully to today’s stories, like this one from a mother fearful for her transgender son’s safety. But change is in the air and thankfully, today’s stories are not only about fear and danger. As our society evolves, we are also starting to see the possibility of a different reality for some of our younger transgender loved ones. In my own congregation, we’re learning together about becoming a truly affirming community, where we welcome our gender non-conforming children and their families and support their joyful participation in the fullness of Jewish life. Protecting the freedoms enshrined into our Commonwealth’s laws is a powerful statement to transgender people and those who love them; ensuring the vibrancy of their futures matters to us all.

How can we ensure that we protect not only our loved ones, but our most cherished values of freedom and dignity? First – vote YES on three. Even before the election, you can join voters across the Commonwealth who are pledging their vote by sending a text message with the phrase “YesOn3” to the phone number 52886, and following the link on your screen (or click here).

Second – tell all your friends to do the same. If the campaign of disinformation opposing this ballot measure gives them pause, ask them to educate themselves on the facts. And join Keshet and Freedom for All Massachusetts for Jewish Community Canvass Day for Trans Rights on Sunday November 4. You’ll be glad that you did.

A final note: Ballot question three is the only one that we at JCRC have endorsed. So we urge you to do your own research on all the others on the ballot.  At a time when our democracy is fraying and voting rights are being challenged, there is no more powerful action we can take as citizens than to exercise our right to be fully informed voters.

Shabbat shalom,

Nahma

From Tragedy to Hope

Earlier this week we marked the first yahrzeit (anniversary of the death) of Shira Banki, a 16 year old who was murdered by a Jewish extremist at last summer’s Jerusalem Pride March.

The past few weeks have been very difficult for all of us. Barely a day goes by without another terrorist attack somewhere around the world, a mass shooting, a horrific attack on police, an attempted coup… The shock of it all is overwhelming, and it does something to us – tearing at our sanity and our hope for a better future.

Amidst this despair, I’d like to tell you something that happened in the wake of Shira’s murder. In that first week, members and allies of the LGBTQ community, under the auspices of the Yerushalmit (Jerusalemite) movement, organized a public shiva (week of mourning) in Jerusalem’s Zion Square. As Sara Weil, an American who had made aliyah many years before, recalls:

"Every night I was there with a lot of other gay activists, standing there, being confronted. And you had these circles of confrontation around the square. There were many different levels of intensity and bumping heads."

One man challenged the mourners, asking why they didn’t gather in public mourning for victims of Arab terrorism. This led to a challenging, yet civil conversation, and to an idea – Why not, after the seventh day of the Shiva, continue to come to Zion Square on a weekly basis to carry on the dialogue between Jerusalem's disparate communities?

Thus began Meeting Place: Encounters in Zion Square.

Every Thursday night for the past year, Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, LGBT and straight, left and right, have come to Zion Square to dialogue – with the aide and support of trained facilitators - about controversial issues affecting Israeli society. As Sara, now the co-director of this project, described it this week:

“Over the course of the year, I've spoken to over a thousand people, many homophobic, some violent. I've experienced over and over again the power of empathy for breaking down barriers of fear. I've witnessed heated confrontation with declared homophobes end in a handshake or hug. I've seen activists from Lehava (radical-right organization) soften their anger and hold respectful dialogue, one even becoming a friend. And I've observed myself, exposing my body and soul to the rugged street, participate in a small slow revolution in the City Center of Jerusalem.”

An advocacy campaign has led Mayor Nir Barkat to dedicate Zion Square to the memory of Shira Banki. Yesterday, under tight security, the Pride March - sponsored by the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance - returned to the center of Israel’s capital. This year’s 15th annual march brought a reported 25,000 members of the LGBTQ community and its allies out, by far the largest turnout in the history of this event.

Meeting Place was born out of LGBTQ activism in Jerusalem, and grew into a vehicle for engagement and social change through the practice of radical empathy, compassion, and civil discourse.

Conversations for the sake of conversation are rare and valuable. As we watch our historic and disturbing political year unfold here at home, and as we contemplate our inability to have healthy political discourse across our differences in our Jewish community, the goal of these Jerusalemites to build a “community of communities” is inspiring – for our hopes for Israel, and for us to think about what is possible here in the United States if we succeed in creating better conversations.

Of course, conversation alone isn’t everything. That Mayor Barkat can attend the conversation in Zion Square and sit on the ground with the activists, but a few days later announce that he would not attend the pride march out of respect for Ultra-Orthodox sentiment is a humbling reminder that good conversations need to be complemented with political strategy for achieving change.

Still, on this anniversary of Shira’s death, I find hope in the dialogue and engagement that have come from the horror of last summer. As Sara writes:

“My experience in Zion Square this past year has convinced me that empathic and patient grassroots activism, activism lead from the heart, not the head, from forgiveness, not anger, can and will heal our society. We will learn to live together.”

In this, and in so many ways, Shira Banki’s memory is truly for a blessing.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Boston Interfaith Leaders Launch Online Campaign to #DeclareInterdependence


 The Boston 12
 is a group of area religious leaders, including JCRC Executive Director Jeremy Burton and JCRC Associate Director Nahma Nadich, which has met regularly for a number of years. We are Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. We are members of cousin religions, descendant of Abraham. We are family.

delcareThe public rhetoric that is borne of the current election season scares us. It is dangerous. It is tearing our nation apart. With this social media campaign we are making an appeal to the better angels of our natures and of our nation. We believe in the American hope and promise of E Pluribus Unum: Out of Many, One (adopted in 1776 as our national motto). But that promise can only be realized with hard work, a lot of listening to each other, a lot trying to understand each other using civil discourse, instead of blaming each other. Instead of everyone yelling their own truth. It feels as if the world around us is spinning out of control as fear causes one group to blame or scapegoat another group. We hope to make a small space for the hard work of listening and learning and finding common ground for the common good.

The Boston 12 has composed five different online messages with one common theme, Declare Interdependence. The first message – to Pledge Respect – went out via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram on Thursday, June 16, 2016. The following four messages will be released June 23, 30, July 3, and July 4.

To get involved, follow JCRC online via FacebookTwitter, and Instagram. Share the posts. Retweet the posts. Regram the posts. And use #DeclareInterdependence.

 

Issue by Issue

Seventeen years ago, I took part in an organizing campaign that is still a point of pride for me, and I believe that the experience yields some valuable lessons for our work here at JCRC.

It was the late 1990s, and I was a volunteer organizer with JFREJ in New York City, during a time when - in the wake of the slaying of Amadou Diallo, a Guinean immigrant who was shot 41 times by police while sitting on the front steps of his Bronx apartment – conversations about the use of excessive force by police dominated the headlines. There were several months of public action and civil disobedience, with members of the Jewish community deeply involved as a result of our organizing. And then, Gidone Busch, an Orthodox Jew with severe mental illness, was fatally shot near his Brooklyn home.

As two communities, African-Americans and Hasidic Jews, each came to the urgency of this issue from different paths, we also came to work with leaders who were highly problematic to us and to each other.

So when we convened a press event at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Manhattan to demand action against excessive force and for enhanced civilian oversight it was quite a remarkable moment, headlined by two men: Reverend Al Sharpton, who had led anti-Semitic boycotts and incited riots against the Jewish community; and, Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who had taken anti-LGBT positions and participated in controversial racially biased activities. These two men, who had gone toe-to-toe with each other on many other matters stood side-by-side in a queer-affirming synagogue to unite on the issue at hand.

In our unity, we built more power for our movement, leading to changes in NYPD operations. None of us was less committed to pursuing our full agendas, nor had we forgiven our grievances for each other. Rather, in that moment, we all recognized that to be effective in achieving change, we needed to work in coalition; and, working in coalition is profoundly limited when we choose to partner only with those with whom we are fully aligned on every issue.

Last week I talked about the severe ideological sorting and social separations that are becoming pervasive in our society. Our success as an organization and as a community comes only when we resist this urge and partner on an issue-by-issue basis. This is true whether it is JCRC working in partnerships with religious institutions with which we differ on LGBTQ equality, so that together we can address the scourge of gun violence. This is true when AIPAC brings together evangelicals and progressives in support of the U.S.-Israel relationship; and, this is true when we sit at our own table of JCRC as a diverse coalition of forty-two organizations who don’t agree among ourselves on many things. And, no, this does not mean that we don’t have boundaries about who we’d work with (but that’s a post for another week).

So yes, we’ll continue to participate in, and even embrace, the sometimes uncomfortable alliances – with other faith communities and with other issue groups with whom we don’t agree on many things – in order to get things done. And maybe, sometimes, by working together on one issue or many, we will foster the relationships that allow us to debate our differences in a healthier and more productive way.

I’ve appreciated the opportunity and ability to have hard conversations with partners - including this week when our trusting relationships have enabled us to talk with each other about the causes and consequences of the Orlando massacre. By starting to appreciate the value of our disparate allies on some matters we can start to recognize our interdependence with each other to tackle all matters in healthier ways than our current civil discourse allows.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy