A Coalition Gathers in Brooklyn: Hate is the Abomination (Not Queers)
by Jake Goodman
This past Thursday, a broad coalition of Jewish and queer New Yorkers gathered on in sub-freezing temperatures for a protest march through the heart of the Jewish neighborhood in Flatbush. The event, titled “In God’s Name,” was organized by grassroots activist group Queer Rising – of which I am a proud member.
“In God’s Name” turned out to be one of the most powerful, effective events I’ve experienced. I’d like to take a moment to explain why.
Why We Fight: October 2010
Who could forget October 2010? Suicides by queer youth made headlines every day. Young people faced harassment, terror and shame so extreme that they felt compelled to take their own lives. At the same time, reports of hate crimes against LGBT people surfaced. In New York City alone, gay men were attacked in Chelsea and at the historic Stonewall Inn, of all places. Most horrifying to me, in the Bronx a group of kids ages 16-23 calling themselves the Latin King Goonies tricked, trapped, then tortured three men for being gay.
On October 10th, at the very height of this violent epidemic, NY gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, in an anti-gay speech written by Rabbi Yehuda Levin, the infamously homophobic fringe rabbi of Flatbush, Brooklyn, said, “I don’t want [children] brainwashed into thinking homosexuality is an equal valid and successful option. It is not.” I watched, mortified, as the media repeatedly replayed the video of ultra-Orthodox Jews applauding and approving this inciting speech.
In that moment, the link between anti-LGBT rhetoric and the recent rash of suicides by queer youth became tragically clear for me. Radical-Right religious and political leaders, role models to many, spew hateful speech that strips queer people of their humanity and dignity. Others hear this rhetoric (aided by an ill-informed media machine) and internalize it as tacit permission to enact violence onto individuals who are, not to mince words, called abominations.
The fact that such vitriol was coming from the mouth-or rather, the pen-of someone who purported to be a spokesperson for my religion was beyond the pale. As was stated by the always-eloquent Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), “As Jews, we are horrified at the anti-LGBT bigotry coming in the name of Judaism at many of our youth, Jewish and non-Jewish. We want religion to be a force of liberation, not a force of oppression.”
How We Fight: Building Coalition “In God’s Name”
When planning “In Gods Name,” we had a choice. Initially, we wanted to do an action that directly attacked Rabbi Yehuda Levin on his home turf, shaming him for his vicious homophobic rhetoric, accusing him of having blood on his hands for the deaths and wrecked lives of people who listened to and internalized his words. After speaking with many people within diverse Jewish communities (Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, Reform, unaffiliated, queer), we quickly realized this was not the right tack to take.
Yehuda Levin is a fringe rabbi. Despite the picture the media paints, he has very few actual followers-maybe 14?-and we do not want to elevate him. Oftentimes, protesters simply compare homophobic Jewish leaders to Hilter, inciting a community that is hyper-sensitive to attacks of anti-Semitism and dashing any support that might otherwise exist. Finally, and most importantly, what would an angry protest accomplish? We would have made our point, sure, but what would change? Nothing.
So we decided instead to build a coalition. We communicated with over 100 rabbis from every denomination. We visited support groups for ex-Orthodox gay Jews. We partnered with other organizations and communities that were doing related work. We mobilized both Jewish and queer organizations to collaborate.
In the end, the success of “In God’s Name” can be measured by who showed up: people of every sexual orientation, Jews of every denomination (including the unaffiliated), non-Jews, atheists, old people, young people, white people, Latino people, African Americans. Rally speakers included a lesbian rabbi (Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum), an Orthodox rabbi (Rabbi Maurice Appelbaum), an Israeli nonprofit executive (Idit Klein) and a gay union leader (Stuart Appelbaum). We were endorsed by synagogues large and small, queer and AIDS-related activist groups, hospitals, arts youth groups, community centers, etc.
Together, in solidarity, we demanded an immediate end to anti-LGBT rhetoric spoken “in God’s name.” We vowed that we would no longer stand idly by when we personally heard such hateful speech. We proved that there is strength through community. This community will rise up again and again, growing larger and more diverse, into a mass movement affirming that HATE IS THE ABOMINATION: NOT QUEER PEOPLE.
Endorsing Partners: Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), Keshet, Storahtelling, Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, Jewish Chicks Rock, Kolot Chayeinu/Voices of Our Lives, Nehirim, The Power, Project ACHIEVE & Columbia University Medical Center