I am writing this column in early June, at the beginning of LGBTQ PRIDE Month.
As many of you know, over the course of my rabbinic career I have been committed to supporting the rights of the LGBTQ community here on Cape Cod and beyond and working for the full inclusion of LGBTQ individuals across the spectrum of Jewish observance.
As PRIDE Month unfolds, I carry a heavy burden of concern over growing threats to the LGBTQ community, most especially to transgender people of all ages. A dangerous backlash, fueled by the decision of right-wing politicians to use “cultural issues” to appeal to voters at the expense of any true attempt to govern responsibly, means we are heading into perilous times as a nation.
A recent opinion column by New York Times columnist Charles Blow speaks to the growing threat. In it he writes, “As the L.G.B.T.Q. community celebrates Pride Month, we are besieged by a malicious, coordinated legislative attack. There’s been a notable rise in the number of anti-L.G.B.T.Q. bills since 2018, and that number has recently accelerated, with the 2023 state legislative year being the worst on record.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, in 2023 there have been more than 525 such bills introduced in 41 states, with more than 75 bills signed into law as of June 5. [...] There have been other periods of backlash against the queer community, including with the passage of oppressive legislation, but this one has moved with alarming political calculation and efficacy.
‘This is a terror campaign against our community’, said Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and chief executive of GLAAD, the pre-eminent L.G.B.T.Q. media advocacy organization.
The way this kind of terrorism works is that it not only punishes expression, condemns identities and cuts off avenues for receiving care but also creates an aura of hostility and issues grievous threats. It’s like burning a cross on someone’s lawn: It’s an attempt to frighten people into compliance and submission.”
Last week the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, declared a state of emergency for the queer and trans community, the first time it has ever done so.
I think it no coincidence whatsoever that this rise in animus directed at the LGBTQ community parallels the alarming rise in antisemitism and other forms of racism in this country. At the root of it all is fear of the other, rooted in ignorance and callously manipulated by politicians who want little more than to remain in office and who think nothing of scapegoating minorities in order to retain power.
Blow closes his essay with these words: “As Michael Bronski, a Harvard professor and the author of A Queer History of the United States, put it, ‘I can argue all I want that this is a draconian backlash that’s not constitutional, but the laws are on the books already.’ He added, ‘I think it’ll be decades to take them off the books.’
That could mean a near future of further bifurcation of the country — some states rushing to oppress the L.G.B.T.Q. community, with others winding up as places to go to try to escape oppression — not unlike the country’s bifurcation in the Jim Crow era. In fact, you could call this era the birth of Jim Queer.”
Blow’s essay is a clarion call to all of us, especially Jews, to become more aware of, and better educated about, threats to the LGBTQ community, most especially those who are transgender. Our experience as history’s “canary in the coal mine” informs of the price our society will pay if we are silent.
[Cape Cod PRIDE Festival is July 22, 2023, from 11:00 AM - 3:00 PM on the Hyannis Village Green]