Bryan Mann is a student at the Hebrew College Rabbinical School in Newton Centre, a pluralistic rabbinical education program. As a gay man, Bryan also spends time bringing his Jewish and LGBTQIA communities together by volunteering with Keshet. He’s here today to debrief some current events.
In the last weeks of June, most of us were discussing the Supreme Court cases that would ultimately strike down Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). But while same-sex partners in the United States received increased access to federal benefits and increased hope for national recognition, across the globe something else entirely was going on—something disastrously huge.
Pink News reported on June 20, 2013, that a Russian lawmaker introduced a law that would allow whipping and flogging gay people in public squares because he perceives gay people as pedophiles and calls homosexuality “a common shame.”
One of my friends posted on Facebook: “So is there any particular reason I haven’t heard about any protests at the Russian Consulate in response to [Russian president] Vladimir Putin’s anti-LGBTQ policies yet? I mean, there’s gotta be something, right?”
Where is the outrage? Why are we not doing anything?
I started to see more outrage at the news that it will now be a crime for a person to “promote” homosexuality in Russia, even if that person is a foreign tourist. Many people interpret this law to mean even something as simple as two women or two men holding hands could result in jail time.
This particular news was shared and discussed on social media more than the news about whipping and flogging. Is it because enough time has passed since the Supreme Court decisions that we can be outraged again, or is it because this time the law might affect us? Now it is dangerous for Americans who identify—or might be identified by others—as LGBTQ to go to Russia. This law restricts our movement and threatens our well-being, if only in the hypothetical. Do we only care about what happens in the rest of the world if it directly affects us? Should we be more outraged that a Russian citizen could be whipped publically for being gay than the fact that we cannot travel to Russia?
The Jewish teaching klal yisrael literally translates as “all of Israel” and is often used to invoke a vision of a shared community and destiny for all Jews, implying that we as Jews are in it together, and that whatever happens to one of us affects all of us.
I think this teaching applies here. What happens to one person in the LGBTQIA community affects the entire LGBTQIA community. If one person who identifies as LGBTQIA is unjustly labeled as a pedophile, it perpetrates the stereotype that we are all pedophiles, especially when the stereotype is institutionalized in the form of violent legislation. But maybe if we all rally around one another, help one another in our own aims and protect one another when we are threatened, together we can build the world in which we want to live.
We should find ways to celebrate. We should enjoy our few successes, but not at the cost of blinding ourselves to the violence that is happening.
What comes next is yet to be known. I have yet to hear discussion regarding, for example, whether Russian citizens will be able to appeal to the United States for asylum. I have yet to hear concrete plans for protesting these new laws or for pressuring our government to put pressure on the Russian government. Being in the Boston area it is easy to get complacent—I live in a safe space. I am taken care of and so is my immediately visible community. Maybe I do not need to care. But I want to care. I invite you to join me in considering how far we extend our community, who we include in our feelings of klal yisrael and if, perhaps, we need to extend it a little bit further.
*Photo of the author, above left, taken at last year’s Moishe Kavod House community retreat
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