Seventy-five years after the liberation of Auschwitz, deadly attacks on Jewish homes, businesses, and places of worship are rocking America, from San Diego to Pittsburgh, and from Jersey City to Monsey.
Yet anti-Semitism isn’t just a clear and present danger for Jews: for millennia it has been a symptom of societies breaking down into dangerous forms of tribalism. At its root, this fight is just as much about holding up America as a pluralistic and democratic society for all – something every LGBTQ American must concern themselves with to protect and advance our rights.
Below are four important lessons we as an LGBTQ movement must learn to become effective advocates and partners in the fight against anti-Semitism.
• Jewish identity is a unique construct. Jewish identity is uniquely difficult to explain, and easy to exploit. Its complexity explains both our unique vulnerability and durability over millennia. Depending on the Jew, we are any combination of a nation, a people, a faith, a shared history, a culture, and a tradition.
No two Jews share the exact same list of Jewish attributes in the same ranking of importance. Prescribing one such description of Jewish identity to the Jewish experience as a whole is as tokenizing as a straight person prescribing what it means “to be a good queer.”
• Anti-Semitism is also a unique construct. Unlike other forms of discrimination, anti-Semitism manifests against Jews irrespective of privilege and status. The myth of Jewish wealth and elite status is centuries-old and continues to show up today, everywhere from hook-up apps like Grindr to attacks on Jews being “all about the Benjamins.” Assigning Jews with artificial privilege is dangerous to all Jews, both those with financial means and those who lack it.
White-passing Jews enjoy certain privileges – so long as they hide their stars of David from spaces like select Dyke Marches, and take off their Kippah (skull cap) on places like the Metro. Jews of Color face the additional challenge of quite often having to prove their Jewish identity to non-Jews (and sadly to many Ashkenazi Jews) simply because they don’t “look Jewish,” which in and of itself is a highly problematic construct.
• Zionism is for Jews to define. The term “queer,” once a derogatory term thrown at our community, is today an empowered identity for many. Others continue to reject it, uncomfortable with its history. How we accept or reject queer identity as LGBTQ people is for each one of us to decide – not outsiders.
The same is true for “Zionism,” the movement to re-establish an indigenous Jewish homeland. For far too long, “Zionism” has become a litmus test in LGBTQ circles and far beyond to divide “good Jews” from “bad Jews.”
Anti-Zionism, effectively the elimination of the Jewish state, would render Jews powerless orphans to an unstable world once again. Denying Jews our attachment to Israel for any reason isn’t just anti-Israel – it makes Jews feel unsafe. We as LGBTQ Americans know how it feels to be powerless.
• Anti-Semitism is not a partisan issue. Anti-Semitism is a systemic problem to be confronted everywhere. Too many left-wing Americans are content to rightly call out white nationalism, but cannot take up the work of uprooting cancerous anti-Semitism in progressive ranks. And too many right-wing Americans are rightly content to call out select anti-Zionist leaders in the Women’s March and Black Lives Matter (leaders who do not represent their movements), but fail to condemn the alt-right stirring up anti-Semitic memes online. We must have the courage to address and remove these biases from our own side of the aisle.
In the words of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov that inspired the name A Wider Bridge: “The whole world is a narrow bridge, and the most important part is not to be afraid.”
On behalf of A Wider Bridge, we invite you to join us in this urgently needed fight against hate. ACT-UP taught us that “Silence=Death.” Our shared future depends on action once more.
Tyler Gregory is executive director of A Wider Bridge.
For years the main joke about the American Family Association’s bombastically overstated One Million Moms (OMM) has involved its name itself. For obvious reasons. When an organization gives itself a grandiose name like that, the comedy is built-in.
But after a weekend where we watched a popular American brand, The Hallmark Channel, temporarily duped into believing that the organization’s constant bark was really an effective bite, it is time to move past the jokes and state the obvious about this organization: it is basically One Meddling Mom with an agenda, and no company should be giving her the credence she so desperately craves.
Her name is Monica Cole. In the decade that I have been aware of One Million Moms, she is quite literally the only staff member I have ever heard anyone name. She is the one and only person who appears on their petitions, as well as the one and only person who speaks for them to the media. She is the mom. Her. Solo. One person, supposedly representing one million.
One Meddling Mom has issued so many calls and condemnations over the years, it’s become easy to tune them out. As GLAAD has arduously detailed, OMM has gone after everything from recent blockbuster Toy Story 4 for including a seconds-long clip of a supposed lesbian couple that quite literally no one but them noticed, to Chips Ahoy for a Twitter ad featuring a Rupaul’s Drag Race star. Basically if a company hires, recognizes, features, or in any way supports an LGBTQ person, One Meddling Mom will issue a petition, claim to have millions of supporters behind her, and then start cranking the AFA machine in hopes of getting some sort of press for her campaign-of-the-week. OMM even uses a conservative PR firm, Hamilton Strategies, to help spread this message to a wider public.
Sadly, because nonsense will forever grab headlines, OMM is pretty capable when it comes to getting ink. It’s typically dismissive, if not outright derisive, press. Most often the anti-LGBTQ campaign to which it is attached goes absolutely nowhere and the company under attack continues right along serving its entire customer base rather than cutting out the share that AFA/OMM believes to be anti-godly mistakes. Still, Monica Cole and her minuscule operation that masquerades as “millions” does get people talking.
It’s easy to be fooled into thinking the organization is larger than it is. But let’s look at some evidence:
The Internet ranking site Alexa (not to be confused with your in-home listening device) gives OneMillionMoms.com a ranking of #1,133,944 in global internet engagement. That is extremely low. For comparison’s sake, GLAAD’s own page has a ranking that is ten times higher ranking than theirs.
One Million Moms has only 4,200 Twitter followers. Sure, not everyone uses social media, and it might even be fair to say that OMM’s target audience uses it at a lower rate. But 4,200 followers? For a squad of supposedly one million? That follow rate doesn’t add up.
Searching social media, it is really hard to find prominent voices speaking out in favor of OMM’s campaigns. You can find all kinds of pro-LGBTQ people pushing back against OMM, in ways ranging from funny to snarky to serious to whatever unclassifiable thing Cole Escola does. But even though Social Conservative Twitter is a reliably outspoken bunch, it’s pretty tough to find any sort of goodwill support for OMM. That would not be the case if they had anywhere near the support base they claim to have.
American Family Association petitions have been skewed for years. Regardless of how you fill out an AFA petition, they will count you as a supporter. So if you weigh in with pushback, thinking you are going to open their eyes and change their minds, you will simply get a “Thank you for supporting us!” and your reply will be counted as support. I still get emails addressed to “Mr. Stop Hating,” the name I used for an AFA petition that I “supported” (read: trolled) a full fifteen years ago. So whenever they say they have X number of signatures, you can be sure that a sizable percentage are people who wanted to deliver a message on a forum where the petition is the only open communication channel.
Every once in a while, a company allows itself to be deafened by the bark, believing it to instead be bite. That’s what happened with The Hallmark Channel before they reversed course. Because of these minor “victories,” Monica Cole and her PR arm are able to push the illusion even further.
But an illusion it is, and we need to call it out. Here on the side of equality, our ranks are much larger, our voices are much louder, and our cause is infinitely more righteous. And many of us are moms and dads ourselves, and we know that Monica Cole’s crude bigotry is not a family value. It is time we tell One Meddling Mom to not only stop attacking our families, but to also stop bearing false witness about her operation.
In much of America, you can still be fired for being gay. You can be denied government services. You can lose your home. Ensuring our basic civil rights protections is at the heart of the cases that the Supreme Court is hearing this week. Businesses have been a key community that have stood with us in this legal effort. They signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief in record numbers, and they are a key component of the coalition that is pushing to pass the Equality Act.
There is another important way that businesses, and other large employers, are showing up for us. Next week, more than 6,000 people will be coming to Washington, D.C. to take part in the Out & Equal Workplace Summit, the largest gathering of LGBTQ professionals anywhere in the world. These attendees come from 38 countries and represent more than 70% of Fortune 1000 companies. And it’s not just the business sector; five U.S. government agencies are also sponsoring this conference.
Summit is a forum for thought leadership. It brings together a richly diverse group who raise ideas and programs that push the envelope, who give visibility to often ignored identities, and who establish best and next practices. Summit workshops and stages are where the next iteration of LGBTQ workforce inclusion is showcased: The future is pan. It is non-binary. It is unafraid to call out racism. It openly acknowledges the significance of mental health at work.
What started as a small gathering 20 years ago has grown into a powerful testament of the commitment of leaders of large businesses to further equality and belonging. What can explain this meteoric growth?
First, large businesses increasingly understand that fostering inclusion impacts their bottom line. When people can show up authentically at work, unencumbered by fears – of social isolation, judgment, or worse – simply because they happen to be LGBTQ, individuals, teams and, yes, businesses and other types of organizations thrive.
This business case is particularly pronounced when it comes to recruiting and retaining top talent. Companies who fail to create a workplace atmosphere where employees feel comfortable end up losing out. Younger generations, Millennials and Generation Z, identify as not “exclusively heterosexual” in far higher rates than older generations. Business leaders have figured out that they need to adapt if they’re going to survive.
Second, Out & Equal has transformed its approach to facilitate and support the type of interaction professionals and organizations need to succeed in these times. Historically, organizations like ours invested in developing proprietary knowledge and passing it out to the businesses that we want to impact. That top-down approach may have been the norm in the past, but it is no way to get things done in today’s interconnected world. It’s also a wastefully inefficient way to bring change.
Our approach starts with the recognition that nobody has a monopoly on good ideas. Rather, the people within these companies and government agencies who work – day in, day out – on improving the work lives of LGBTQ employees have a great deal of knowledge. We can do more for our cause by creating opportunities for these practitioners to come together, learn from each other, and co-create better solutions to the challenges that need to be addressed.
The 6,000 people who will be at the Workplace Summit will certainly have the opportunity to learn from each other. But it’s not the only such opportunity available to them.
In the United States, we know that there are different religious and cultural contexts that impact what it’s like to lead LGBTQ lives. Life in San Francisco or New York is different than in the rural South. The tools that have been used successfully in big cities to impact workplaces need to be tailored in order to be as effective in rural settings. This awareness drove us to convene two forums this year in the South. By bringing southerners together to explore the obstacles they face, and the solutions that have worked in their companies, we can catalyze change. The answer is never one-size-fits-all.
The same logic applies to our work outside of the United States. We forge partnerships across Latin America and hold summits in Brazil, India, and China. We know that the most impactful thing to do is bring together our partners who function in those regions so that they can figure out together the strategies and nuances that they need to pursue to make their workplaces ones where all people are equal, belong, and thrive.
You might be surprised to hear that businesses are sharing their best practices with one another. They certainly are! I can tell you, in these trying times, they are less interested in competing in the areas of diversity and inclusion, than in coming together to more efficiently improve their organizational cultures. This realization drove us to develop a new online Global Hub (in partnership with JP Morgan Chase) that gives change agents in each organization a secure portal in which they can engage with their colleagues at other businesses – anytime, anywhere.
The legal advocacy being done to protect LGBTQ rights to employment, at the Supreme Court and vis-à-vis the Equality Act, matters. As our community pursues these basic protections, we also need to invest in what it takes for each of us to be ourselves and to thrive at work.
Work is where we spend most of our waking hours. We interact with our coworkers. We brainstorm together. We grab coffee together. It is who we share our lives with. But too many people in our community, even if they do not fear that they will be fired for who they are, do not work in a space that allows them to fully share who they are. The work that gets done at Summit in Washington next week, and all around the year by Out & Equal and our partners, is how this reality gets better.
Erin Uritus is CEO of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, the world’s premier nonprofit dedicated to achieving global LGBTQ workplace equality.
“Why is a gay Hollywood liberal sitting next to a conservative Republican president?” DeGeneres quipped rhetorically Tuesday during the opening monologue of CBS’ “Ellen DeGeneres Show,” oversimplifying the criticism she received online after she was spotted sitting next to Bush on Sunday at the Dallas Cowboys game into a rivalry between identities.
Today, DeGeneres is not only famous, she is incredibly wealthy. And she has developed a global brand that is both unfailingly positive and predictably safe.
More than two decades ago, DeGeneres did a courageous thing. She came out at a time when essentially everyone in Hollywood was straight — or pretending to be straight. In doing so, she put her comedy career on the line. A year after coming out on television, her show was canceled. (ABC denied the cancellation had anything to do with DeGeneres’ sexual orientation.)
That was then. Today, DeGeneres is not only famous, she is incredibly wealthy. And she has developed a global brand that is both unfailingly positive and predictably safe. She’s not a radical, so there’s no danger that seating her next to a former president like Bush would result in confrontation or debate. (Remember when she defended another “friend,” Kevin Hart?)
“When we were invited I was aware I’d be surrounded by people with very different views and beliefs,” she noted on the show, “and I’m not talking about politics. I was rooting for the Packers — and, get this, everybody in the Cowboys suite was rooting for the Cowboys.”
You’re not playing for the home team, Ellen. We get it.
Within this sporty frame, her friendship with the former president is recast as innocuous and inconsequential (It’s only a game!). And games aren’t real. They’re fun.
DeGeneres is not unique in equating politics with sports — just look at the media and how they report on presidential campaigns. “The race for the White House!” is CNN’s exclamatory mantra. There’s a new poll every day charting who’s “winning” or “leading” the pack.
“Here’s the thing: I’m friends with George Bush,” DeGeneres explained in her monologue. “In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have. We’re all different, and I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s OK.”
But here’s the thing: Politics is not a football game. LGBT lives are not toys to be tossed around for entertainment.
Ellen is the world’s most famous lesbian. George W. Bush is a straight, white man who conscientiously fronted his administration’s agenda to diminish and prevent rights and benefits being afforded to LGBT Americans.
Context matters, especially when it is broadcast on national television: Ellen DeGeneres is the world’s most famous lesbian. George W. Bush is a straight, white, cisgender man who conscientiously fronted his administration’s agenda to diminish and prevent any modicum of rights and benefits being afforded to LGBT Americans in the 2000s.
In 2004, for example, he announced his support for the Federal Marriage Amendment, which aimed to “protect” the institution of marriage by limiting it to “the union of a man and a woman.” In his endorsement of the amendment, Bush implied that gay marriage is harmful to society: “Marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening the good influence of society.” Later, in 2008, his administration refused to support the United Nations’ declaration condemning acts of homophobia — voting against the measure alongside Russia and China.
DeGeneres’ nacho-sharing pal-around was criticized by those of us who remember this not-so-distant history, who remember the policies and values espoused by Bush’s administration. This history looms especially large this week, as the Supreme Court hears multiple cases on LGBT protections and rights in the workplace.
“Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them,” she explained. “When I say, ‘Be kind to one another,’ I don’t only mean the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone.”
These words sound good. But what does “be kind” really mean? Who does it work for, whose ideology does it uphold, and what power does it service?
“Be kind” is the mashed potatoes of words on a plate of respectability politics. For those of us within the LGBT community, as well as for people in minority communities, the request to “be kind” is a demand for silence. It is a demand for tolerance of hate and discrimination. It is a demand for complicity. It is bending oneself into the mold of likability defined by a man-centered, straight-centered culture.
DeGeneres, as she joked, just wanted to “keep up with the Joneses,” the mythical gateway family to social acceptance, as well as the name of the family that owns the Cowboys. Doubling down on her message in her monologue, DeGeneres revealed the cost of this acceptance: integrity.
She made it a point to quote a tweet supporting her friendship: “Ellen and George Bush together makes me have faith in America again.”
What to make of the Log Cabin Republicans’ endorsement of Donald Trump’s re-election bid?
The surprise move came in a Washington Post op-ed from Log Cabin chair Robert Kabel and vice chair Jill Homan earlier this month.
It came despite Trump’s well-documented racism and his myriad attacks on the LGBTQ community.
It came despite Log Cabin’s own precedent in how it awards endorsements. Traditionally, a candidate had to meet with Log Cabin to win its support, as George W. Bush did in 2000 and Mitt Romney did in 2012. But Trump didn’t meet with Log Cabin. It’s a safe bet Trump has no idea who Kabel and Homan are or what Log Cabin does. The group has also traditionally withheld its endorsement until after the convention. We don’t even know who Trump’s Democratic opponent will be and just this weekend he picked up a second Republican primary challenger. Yet, Log Cabin rushed its endorsement more than a year before the election. The op-ed was not signed by Log Cabin executive director Jerri Ann Henry, fueling rumors that she has been sidelined by the board.
In their op-ed, Kabel and Homan praised Peter Thiel’s speech at the 2016 GOP convention in which he said from the podium, “I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Republican. But most of all, I am proud to be an American.” It was a nice moment, but talk is cheap. Kabel and Homan conveniently ignore the fact that the Republican platform that year contained the most anti-LGBTQ language in history, including support for “ex-gay” conversion therapy. It was so bad that Log Cabin declined to endorse Trump that year.
They praise Trump for his efforts to end HIV/AIDS in 10 years; to push for decriminalization of homosexuality around the world; and his economic record, which they contend has helped create new LGBTQ-founded small businesses.
Let’s take a closer look. First, on HIV/AIDS, it’s a commendable goal but amid the hoopla around “ending HIV,” Trump’s administration has initiated attacks on LGBTQ patients, with HHS proposing a rule that would allow insurers and providers to discriminate against trans patients. HHS has also sought to roll back ACA protections and enable providers and insurers to deny care and coverage to LGBTQ people based on religious or moral beliefs. As for decriminalization, sure, another worthy goal. But, gee, the bar is awfully low if he wins an endorsement for merely asserting that gays shouldn’t be locked up. Finally, on small business, Kabel and Homan again conveniently ignore that the SBA, which won a prestigious award from Harvard University for its creative and inclusive outreach to LGBTQ entrepreneurs under President Obama, deleted LGBTQ-related content from its website after Trump’s inauguration and only restored the information after an outcry.
The real problem with the endorsement is that it gives cover to a president, a vice president and an administration that continue to attack LGBTQ Americans. Just last week, the Blade’s intrepid Chris Johnson asked Trump a question about his efforts to roll back LGBTQ protections. Trump ignored the substance of the question and instead pivoted to brag about his Log Cabin endorsement. He predictably had trouble recalling the name of the group that had endorsed him. And Trump’s language during the exchange was telling as he deliberately avoided using the word “gay” or the “LGBTQ” acronym. Instead, he said he’s “done very well with that community.”
Then, just three days after the exchange with Johnson at the White House, Trump’s Justice Department submitted a voluntary 34-page brief to the Supreme Court arguing that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 doesn’t apply to cases of anti-gay discrimination. As the Blade reported, with only 21 states having laws barring sexual orientation discrimination, the 2020 high court ruling on the extent of protections under federal law will have a broad impact on gay, lesbian and bisexual workers.
There’s simply no legitimate rationale for an LGBTQ organization — even a Republican one — to endorse Trump. It is the ultimate in white privilege that Kabel and Homan can ignore children in cages, immigrant deaths in U.S. custody, racist Tweets, the trans military ban and so many other attacks and affronts and back Trump in 2020. Rewarding Trump’s cruel record with praise will only inspire more attacks. What a heartless stunt from a soulless and increasingly irrelevant organization.
As we approach the halfway line of Pride month, we mark the third anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida.
On June 12, 2016, 49 people were killed and 53 injured in what was (then) the US’s deadliest mass shooting. Those killed were overwhelmingly Latinx and queer.
Though what happened in Orlando was at a scale we haven’t seen since, the violence has not stopped.
On June 4, a mayor in Alabama suggested killing LGBT+ people, in a now-deleted Facebook post. When confronted by the media, he first denied writing it, then admitted to it but said he thought he was sending a private message to a friend.
That same day – June 4 – a gay man in Atlanta called Ronald “Trey” Peters was robbed and fatally shot by two men who shouted homophobic slurs at him.
“‘Give him the f***ing bag, f*g,’” one of the men shouted, before opening fire, according to a witness. Police are treating it as a hate crime – although Georgia doesn’t have hate-crime laws, so the homophobic nature of the attack won’t be reflected in the weight of the law used to prosecute his killers.
These violent incidents all happened in the first 12 days of Pride month this year – and sadly this is far from a comprehensive list.
Schools and communities should be places where students and families feel welcomed safe and supported by all adults responsible for their success and well-being. Many communities and schools across the country are reporting an increase in hate speech and bias, xenophobia, racism, sexism, anti-LGBT, anti-immigrant, and anti-semitism. In the last few weeks alone there have been several reported incidents of hate speech and bias in the media.
This is why the new bill that requires New Jersey middle and high school students to be taught the political, economic and social contributions of notable disabled persons and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people throughout history that Gov. Murphy signed is so important. That is why diversifying curriculum and visibility are so important. This new bill joins earlier bills that created the Amistad Commission, which requires New Jersey schools to incorporate African-American history into social studies curriculum and the Holocaust Commission, which requires New Jersey schools to teach responsibly about the Holocaust. The State of New Jersey is showing students of multiple, diverse and complex identities that they matter and that adults care about their well-being.
Students need to see themselves in what they read, across the curricula, in hallways, classrooms, the cafeteria and playground, and in caring adults, teachers, leaders and policymakers who mirror and reflect our diverse student populations and communities. Studies have shown that creating welcoming inclusive environments, curriculum and policies benefits all student learners and helps them understand the world around them, strengthen critical thinking and respectful behavior. A new report from the Trevor Project showed that one caring adult can save a LGBTQ young persons life and decrease the chance of a suicide attempt by 40%. Visibility matters. Words matter. Actions matter. That is why it is important that schools, communities and elected officials can and should work together to create welcoming inclusive safer schools for all students and families.
Every student benefits when fellow students feel safe and valued and when students learn about themselves and each other. No one should have to work or go to school where they are subject to prejudice, bullying, bias or harassment. No one should feel unwelcome or unsafe because of who they are, who they love or what they believe. It is up to us – all of us– to ensure that we are creating inclusive welcoming safer schools and communities for all students to thrive inside and outside of the classroom. We need teachers, leaders and policy makers that recognize all students diverse needs and challenges and who embrace their role as a leading voice that lifts up and empowers student voices of all backgrounds, faith, origins, abilities, income or identity – especially our most vulnerable and marginalized student voices.
That is why it will take a whole-community approach across a continuum to assist school leaders, educators, stakeholders, parents and students and having courageous conversations around cultural responsiveness, bias and equity. We all have a shared responsibility and an important role to play in maintaining and building a safe, welcoming and affirming learning environment for all our students. Hate speech, bias and discrimination impact all students; that’s why we must call out hate speech and bias whenever we see it or hear it. We must condemn all forms of hate speech and violence and denounce expressions of hate and bias in our classrooms and communities.
Perhaps even more importantly, as adults we must look at how are we modeling behavior, actions and expectations – how are we are modeling and building a positive respectful welcoming environment in which students of all identities are lifted up, and every aspect of a whole-child is valued. Together we can create inclusive safe schools for all students and families.
To the youth of every religion or faith, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, ability or disability, economic status, race or ethnicity, culture, place of origin, home language, immigration status: You matter. You are loved. You are not alone. You are welcome here.
Shannon Cuttle is a nationally recognized safe schools leader, policymaker, and educator. They also are the first openly non-binary person elected in New Jersey and serve on the South Orange – Maplewood Board of Education. The views here expressed are solely their own and do not represent the SOMSD Board of Education or any institution.
We have come a long way since our fellow heroes at Stonewall stood up against the New York police.
Most of us might have the feeling that it got better. But for many LGBT people around the world, it is not getting better. For the first time since its existence, European LGBTI rights is backsliding.
As the LGBTI community, we need to understand our accomplishments can be reversed. History teaches us that any movement can be stopped.
Therefore, I think it is time to be more bond in defending our freedoms.
That’s why I, as an expert in LGBTi in international relations, have come up with five demands. World leaders must listen.
1. Do not make deals with anti-LGBTI governments
Decision-makers must not to close their eyes when they meet. Don’t make deals with homophobic and transphobic governments across the world.
If President Trump is making arms deals with Saudi Arabia, he is giving legitimacy to a regime that hangs people for being gay.
2. Don’t give away LGBTI privacy
It is thoughtless to give away all our most private information to companies. The recent decision of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to force a Chinese company to sell their stake in Grindr is not a bad one.
In recent years, more stories have come out of governmental suppression of any LGBTI movement. We can’t allow our opposition to get access to our information.
3. Understand LGBTI rights are human rights
Understand the most basic values of our society are also inherently linked to what the LGBTI community demands.
Support fellow LGBT+ people running for office. Just like men shouldn’t decide on women’s rights, straight people should also not solely decide on LGBTI issues. In all countries that have introduced LGBTI rights, it was not politicians that did it. It was the LGBTI community that advocated for several decades for those laws.
5. Be proud of the LGBTI community
Homophobic governments want to prevent us to be open about ourselves.
In 2013, Russia introduced an anti-propaganda law exactly for that reason. With this law, walking hand in hand with your boyfriend or girlfriend on the street can be perceived as a political act and can be persecuted. The grey, heterosexual and masculine political elite does everything to prevent us from becoming more visible. They are afraid to lose their power.
Stonewall hero Marsha P. Johnson once said: ‘History isn’t something you look back at and say it was inevitable’.
Let us not focus on the past. But start writing our own history – today!
Rémy Bonny is a political scientist and LGBT+ activist from Belgium. He is also a specialist in the LGBTI movement in international relations
The first openly gay rights organization in the United States was established in 1924 by a German immigrant, Henry Gerber.
The Society for Human Rights had a significant and prophetic name. Over two decades before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Gerber understood that sexuality was defined as a human right. It’s true, this did not represent a breakthrough for gay people in the US in the wider culture: police raids led to the Society’s disbanding in 1925.
Rather, it was the beginning of a struggle.
Ninety-five years later, the Stonewall rebellion. This act of resistance, considered to be the most important milestone in the progress towards gay liberation in the US, celebrates 50 years in a few days.
With more countries understanding the essential truth of that early Society of Human Rights, that LGBTI rights are human rights, and with equal marriage recognized to a greater degree than ever before, LGBTI people in some parts of the world are beginning to see the fruits of that long, hard struggle.
Openly gay organizations cannot operate in Uganda
From the perspective of my own country, Uganda, however, an openly gay organization cannot operate.
The Anti-Homosexuality Act was passed into law by Uganda’s president in 2014 but later annulled by the Constitutional Court of Uganda on grounds that it was passed without a quorum, as required.
The annulment was a great win but it did not stop the harassment of LGBTI communities by the Ugandan Police and media, by Simon Lokodo who serves as the Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity, and by homophobic citizens.
Homosexuality is criminalized in most African states. Only a few don’t have written laws criminalizing same-sex intimacy, and one or two have begun the process of throwing out what is principally colonial era legislation introduced by the British to control African sexuality.
Instead of Uganda learning from those few African countries that are decriminalizing homosexuality and trying to fight homophobia, it is taking steps backward. For example, Rebecca Kadaga, Speaker of Parliament in Uganda, threatened that Uganda would withdraw from the International Parliamentary Union (IPU) if they were to keep pushing for the rights of LGBTI people in a declaration on migrants and refugees.
Denying human rights to LGBTI citizens
It is perhaps the greatest human rights violation for a government to deny that any group of people can rely on universally recognised human rights, that they even have human rights at all, but that is what the Ugandan government has effectively tried to do to the LGBTI communities.
This is Pride Month and Gay Pride is considered one of the most precious moments in the gay communities’ year because that is when everyone gets together to celebrate who we are and where we have come from. People from all communities, including LGBTI communities and heterosexual allies, attend Gay Pride. It’s all about being happy and being yourself.
This is the time when openly gay activists and non-activists meet as well. The Ugandan government does not have a problem robbing us of such precious moments. Our events beyond pride, such as conferences, meetings, and educational workshops are always disrupted or banned; illegal arrests of LGBTI people are not uncommon. So it’s no surprise that Pride itself has consistently been crushed, often brutally.
Why do they hate us?
Where has all this hate come from?
Evangelical Christians, particularly from the U.S., have found a way of taking advantage of Ugandans. They lie to them and say homosexuality is imported, un-African.
As I have always said, homophobia is not African. Homophobia was imported along with the laws the British gave us.
Homosexuality is not new in Africa because it’s not something that can be invented or started. It breaks my heart to see minorities suffer the wrath of marginalization just because they’re not the majority. I don’t know why people think because a few people are doing something the rest don’t, it must be wrong or unnatural.
Why do those who hate us hate us? I don’t know. But here is what I do know, the LGBTI communities in Uganda, myself as an openly Ugandan gay man included, will stop at nothing in order to spread warm love, kindness, and the generosity that everyone deserves.
I believe we must spread love to receive love. I understand we still have a lot of work to do as Ugandans to achieve gay rights. That is why we can’t stop fighting even with the current harassment and injustice we face in Uganda.
Back in 1924 Henry Gerber and his colleagues in the US didn’t give up. They knew that LGBTI rights are human rights. A few African countries that have recognized this too and have rejected the importation of homophobia motivate us to keep moving and fighting. This is not a battle that can be won in a day, month or year, but we are hopeful. If others can do it, so can we.
Frank Mugisha is the director of Sexual Minorities Uganda. Follow him on Twitter.
The American dream to live in absolute freedom; safe from the threats, persecution, violence, psychological torture and even death the Cuban dictatorship has imposed on me because of my journalistic work fell apart in my hands as soon as I arrived in Louisiana. The Cubans here who are also seeking protection from the U.S. government welcomed me to the Bossier Parish Medium Security Facility with an ironic surprise. They opened their arms and told me, “Welcome to hell!”
I could hardly believe they have spent nine, 10 and even 11 months asking, waiting for a positive response from immigration authorities in their cases.
I was under the illusion that after an asylum official who interviewed me at the Tallahatchie County Correctional Center in Tutwiler, Miss., on March 28 determined I had a “credible fear of persecution or torture” in Cuba, one hearing with an immigration judge would be enough to obtain my conditional release and pursue my case in freedom as U.S. law allows. But I was wrong. The locals (here at Bossier) once again took it upon themselves to dash my hopes.
“Nobody comes out of Louisiana!” they proclaimed.
It only took a few minutes for my dream, like that of many others, to turn into a nightmare. The more than 30 migrants who arrived in Louisiana on the afternoon of May 3, coming from Mississippi after more than a month detained at Tallahatchie, were plunged into a deep depression that continues today. Only the tears under the blanket that nobody can see are able to ease my desperation for a few minutes and then I once again feel it in my chest when I think of my family in Cuba who continues to receive threats of jail and death from the Cuban dictatorship because of my work with “media outlets of the enemy.” This reality is the only thing that awaits me back there. I therefore see the situation in Louisiana and I am once again afraid. I cannot see an exit. Prisoner here, prisoner if I return to Cuba. I feel trapped.
Violation of their own laws
I realized a few days after I arrived in Louisiana the subjectivity of who makes the decisions matters, not objectivity or attachment to those who are being held. Louisiana feels like a lost piece of “gringo” geography at which nobody seems to look, or to the contrary, it is a coldly calculated strategy that triumphs on authoritarianism, abuse of power or intransigence. I don’t know what to think.
More than a few who have arrived here have come to the conclusion the U.S. has made migrants its new business. Keeping migrants in their custody for so long keeps hundreds of employees and lawyers in business, as well as generating huge profits for the prisons with which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement contracts. It has become clear the government prefers to waste more than $60 a day per migrant than set us free under our own recognizance.
“Louisiana is an anti-immigrant state,” Arnaldo Hernández Cobas, a 55-year-old Cuban man whose asylum process has taken 11 months, tells me. “It is not possible for any of the thousands of people who go through the process to leave victorious.”
Hernández tells me ICE agents have not met with him once during his confinement and the deportation officer has never seen him.
“I don’t know if I am allowed to have bail,” he says. “Judge Grady A. Crooks affirms that we do not qualify for this and he does not give it to those who qualify for it because they can flee. This only happens in this state because migrants in other places are released and can pursue their cases on the outside after they make bail.”
Another way to obtain conditional freedom is through parole, a benefit the federal government offers to asylum petitioners who enter the country legally and are found to have a credible fear of suffering, facing persecution or being tortured in their countries of origin.
“To grant it, ICE asks for a series of questions that relatives should send to them, but what is happening is that they don’t give them enough time to do so,” says Arnaldo.
This is exactly what happened with me.
My family managed to send the documents the next day for my parole interview, which was scheduled for the following day. ICE nevertheless denied me parole because I did not prove “that I am not a danger to society.” I am sure they didn’t even take my case seriously.
There are stories that border on the absurd because many migrants have received their parole hearing notifications the same day they should have filed their documents. One therefore feels as though ICE mocks you to your face and your feelings of helplessness reach the max.
The awarding of parole is a new procedure ICE must complete, but it does not go beyond that. They use this and other crafty strategies to “stay good” in the eyes of the law and they therefore keep asylum seekers in custody for months. They bring them to hearings they will not win, pushing for the deportation of those who do not succumb to the pressure of confinement without properly assessing the risk to their lives that returning to their native countries would entail.
ICE is required to free us a few days after it grants parole, and we already know it doesn’t want to do this. Their goal is to keep us locked up at all costs.
“The cruel irony is that the majority of asylum seekers who follow the law and present themselves at official ports of entry don’t have to ask an immigration judge for their release from custody,” declared Laura Rivera, a lawyer for the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that provides legal assistance to immigrants, in an article titled, “Stuck in ‘hell’: Cuban asylum seekers wither away in Louisiana immigration prisons.” “To the contrary, their only avenue to secure their freedom is to ask the same agency that detains them, the Department of Homeland Security.”
But DHS — as Rivera details in the article published by the Southern Poverty Law Center — is ignoring its mandate to consider requests for release in detail. And to the contrary it denies conditional release without justification.
“Men are kept hidden from the outside world, locked up and punished for defending their rights and are forced to bring their cases before immigration judges who deny them with rates of up to 100 percent,” affirmed Rivera.
Another of the process violations in Arnaldo’s case was he was assured where he was first detained that he could win his case along with that of his wife, “but when he came” to Louisiana the judge “told me this was not allowed, that each case is different.” Arnaldo’s life cannot be different from that of his wife because they have been together for 37 years. His wife has been free for nine months, but he remains behind bars. And so, it happens with mothers and sons, brothers and people who have identical cases. Once again, subjectivity determines a person’s fate.
During his hearing with Crooks, Arnaldo declared he feels “very uncomfortable” because he considers him an extremist.
“He said that he only recognizes extreme cases,” says Arnaldo. “Doors mean nothing to him. He describes himself as a deportation judge, not an asylum judge. In the entire time that I have been here nobody has won asylum, not even bail, only deportations.”
Conclusive proof of the judge’s extremism came one day when another judge ran the hearings and the migrants who presented their cases that morning received asylum. The example could not have been more illustrative.
Douglas Puche Moxeno, a 23-year-old Venezuelan man who has spent nine months in Louisiana, also said the detainees “did not receive more information on how the process should be followed and how one should do it.”
“I don’t know if they explained to us the ways to obtain a conditional release,” he says.
In relation to their hearings, Douglas says “the judge told me that he knew the real situation in Venezuela, but he did not grant me asylum because I am not an extreme case. He is waiting for someone to come to the United States without an arm or a leg to be accepted.”
The migrants in Louisiana are trying every way possible to be released. They have made these complaints on television stations and have even gone to Cuban American U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
“We have reached the point of filing a lawsuit against ICE,” Douglas explains. “A team of lawyers from the Southern Poverty Law Center have proposed a lawsuit seeking a reconsideration of parole. This is one of the most hopeful ways that we have to obtain freedom. If we are successful, the benefits will be for everyone.”
“Various protests to pressure authorities and to reclaim our rights as immigrants have been organized,” says Douglas. “Relatives, lawyers and various institutions have come together in Miami, Washington and even here in Louisiana to make ICE aware of the injustices that have been committed against us for more than a year.”
‘This is not your country’
Bossier is a jail deep in Louisiana, hidden in the woods that surround it. Each day inside of it is a constant struggle for survival that takes a huge toll on my physical, psychological and above all emotional capacities. More than 300 migrants live in four dorms in cramped conditions with intense cold and zero privacy.
My stay here reminds me of the school dorms in Cuba where we were forced to share smells, tastes and basic needs. Here we also share Hindu, African, Chinese, Nepali, Syrian and Central American migrants’ beliefs, cultures and ways of life.
My personal space is reduced to a narrow metal bed that is bolted to the floor, a drawer for my things and a thin mattress that barely manages to keep my spine separated from the metal, which sometimes causes back pain. The most painful thing, however, is the way the officers treat us. For “better or for worse,” you feel as though you are a federal prisoner.
“According to ICE, we are ‘detainees,’ not prisoners, but we have still suffered physical and psychological abuses,” says Arnaldo. “I remember one time when an official dragged a Salvadoran man to the hole for three days simply for eating in his bed. They don’t offer anything to us and they don’t talk to us, they yell. They wake you up by kicking the bed.”
“The slightest pretext is used to disconnect the microwave, the television or deny us ice, affirming this is a luxury and not a necessity,” alleges Arnaldo. “When we complain about these situations. They tell us, ‘This is not your country.’”
Smiles are not common inside the dorm. The faces of affliction and sadness predominate. Good news is almost always false and the frustration and stress this confinement causes us therefore returns.
“I feel very sad, afflicted here, as though I had killed someone because of the mistreatment that we receive, the place’s conditions,” declares Damián Álvarez Arteaga, a 31-year-old man who has spent 11 months as a prisoner in the U.S.
“Freedom is the most precious thing a human being has,” he adds. “I hope that I will receive a positive response to my case after spending so much time detained. We have demonstrated to the U.S. that we are truly afraid of suffering persecution or torture in Cuba.”
Hours in here seem to have no end: They stretch, they multiply, but they never shorten or pass quickly. Our only contact with the outside the world are telephone communications or video calls (at elevated prices) with relatives, friends or lawyers and sporadic trips to the patio to greet the son and take fresh air.
“In all of the time that I have been here, I have seen the son a few times and only for 15 minutes and this is because we have complained,” recalls Arnaldo.
The yard, as we also call it, is a small rectangle of fences and surveillance cameras with a cement surface at the center of it where some of us play soccer when they give us a ball. I roll the pants of my yellow uniform up to my knees to allow the sun to warm my extremities a bit while my eyes wander towards the lush forest that is a few meters away from me. I admire the sky, the few vehicles that are driving on the nearby highway and I take deep breaths of oxygen because I know I had just come out of the deep sea and desperately needed air to keep me alive.
“Everyday is the same here from the same food to the same activities,” says Douglas. “This prison does not have sufficient spaces to accommodate so many people for so long. We don’t have a library or family visits.”
‘Soup is currency’
My day at Bossier begins a bit before 5 a.m. With the call to “line-up,” I receive a plastic tray with my breakfast. Today is cereal day, low-fat milk, bread and a small portion of jelly. The menu is the same each day of the week. I always save part of it because there is nothing more to eat until midday.
“The food is not correct,” opines Damián. “My stomach is already used to that small portion. A piece of bread with hot sauce and some vegetables or mortadella cannot sustain an adult man, nor can it keep you in shape to resist such a stressful process.”
The last meal of the day is at 4 p.m., and because of this it is a fantasy to be in bed at 11 p.m. with a full stomach. I reduce the hunger pains with an instant soup to which I add some carrots and a hot dog that I steel for myself from the day’s meals.
Since I still have some money, I can buy soups and extra things to make Bossier’s bad food a little better. Bossier classifies those who don’t receive economic support from their families as “indigent” and they are forced to clean up for their fellow detainees in exchange for a Maruchan soup. Here soup is currency. Everything begins and ends with it, the savior of hungry nights.
“You can buy these and other things at elevated prices in the commissary, the only store to which we have access and for which we depend on everything,” says Damián.
Bossier’s medical services on the other hand are so basic that there is not even a doctor or nurse on call, nor is there an observation room for patients and consultations only take place from Monday to Friday.
“One who gets sick is put in punishment cells, isolated and alone, which psychologically affects us,” notes Arnaldo. “People sometimes don’t say they don’t feel well because they are afraid they will be sent to the ‘well.’ In extreme cases they bring you to a hospital with your feet, hands and waist shackled and they keep you tied to the bed, still under guard. I prefer to suffer before being hospitalized like that.”
Yuni Pérez López, a 33-year-old Cuban, experienced this unfortunate situation first hand. He was on the hole for six days because he had a fever.
“I felt as though I was being punished for being sick,” he says. “And even when the doctor discharged me, they kept me there. It was like being in an icebox: Four walls, a bed, a toilet and a light that never turns off. To leave from there I had to stop eating for an entire day to get the officials’ attention and they returned me to the dormitory.”
Bossier also leaves you chilled to the bone because we cannot use blankets or sheets to cover ourselves from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is not a question of esthetic or discipline because the officials are not interested in whether your bed is made well. The only thing that bothers them is when we are cover ourselves from the dorm’s intense cold.
The migrants interviewed by the Washington Blade are those who have been at Bossier the longest. They are all appealing Crooks’ decision not to grant them political asylum. I have not presented my case yet, so I am still a little hopeful that I will receive the protection of the U.S. Like them, I am trying to get used to this harsh reality and be strong, although most of the time sadness consumes me and erases positive thoughts.
The U.S. to me — like for many — does not represent a comfortable life, the newest car or McDonald’s. None of this will ever be able to fill the void of my family, friends or passionate love that I left behind. The U.S. represents the opportunity to LIVE, so I will hold on to it until the end.