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A Time for Healing, Prayer and Remembrance

Congregation Kol Ami memorial service TONIGHT

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RABBI DENISE L. EGER. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

I didn’t think my heart could break into smaller pieces but Saturday’s mass murder at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during Sabbath morning services has left me crying and my heart in shards. I am scared for America.

Tree of Life synagogue is a vibrant place on Saturday morning, hosting three different congregations. It is in the heart of Squirrel Hill, a leafy neighborhood in Pittsburgh, where the Jewish community is centered. But it is a diverse neighborhood as well, with lots of different ethnic and religious groups. Mr. Roger’s home is a mere few blocks away from the synagogue.

Eleven people murdered in cold blood as they sang of peace and welcomed a new baby into the covenant of his ancestors and many people injured including 4 police officers. What was supposed to be an uplifting morning worship service turned into one of the bloodiest mass murders in a house of worship.

The murderer, now in custody, is a vociferous Anti-Semite whose social media pages is filled with anti-Semitic screed, brought his AK47 into Tree of Life Synagogue and opened fire. He told police “All Jews must die”.

Anti-Semitism is real. It’s always been here in the United States. But since Donald Trump’s ascension to politics and the Presidency, his rhetoric has given new permission to the Anti-Semites to air their ugly lies and untruths about the Jewish people and the Jewish community and foster violence and murder.

The rise of the American Nazi party, right wing hate groups like the Proud Boys, and other right- wing extremists have used anti-Jewish code words in their materials, rallies, and publications. Fox news commentators, The President and his cronies have picked up on those words as he tries to signal his base that all those who aren’t white straight Christian Americans have no place in the good ole’ US of A.

And there is growing Anti-Semitism on the left as well. Often in the form of Anti-Israel or Anti-Zionist hatred, Jews long part of coalitions to welcome the stranger, stand with the poor, march for civil rights for brown and black people, and our LGBTQ community have been increasing told you are not welcome.

The Jewish community has been a part of and shared in the suffering, been victims of violence along with other minorities in America. There were redlines that prevented us from buying homes in certain neighborhoods, clubs that exclude us and university quotas keeping Jews out. That is why Cedars-Sinai Hospital was founded because Jews weren’t allowed into medical school at one time and were prevented from serving as doctors in hospitals. Or worse, Jews have been told that we are not an oppressed hated minority in America as if our pain and suffering and losses and oppression are not real. Tell that to those that lost family in the Holocaust.

Anti-Semitism is a cancer eating away at our society. It is rising here and in Europe. In Los Angeles county this past year 72 percent of all hate crimes were directed at the Jewish community. In Pittsburgh where the shooting took place, there has been a 50 percent increase in Anti-Semitic hate crimes since January 2018! And the Jewish community which only a generation ago, saw 6 million of our family members systematically murdered by the Nazis in death camps of Europe are being re-traumatized by what is happening around us. When Anti-Semitism rises it is like the canary in a coal mine, something is terribly wrong with our country.

The shooting on Saturday coupled with the increase in vandalism of synagogues with swastikas, Jewish community bomb threats, online anti-Jewish poison and Nazi’s marching through the streets of Charlottesville. Virginia and other places with menacing chants like “Blood and Soil” (which were the chants of Nazi is Germany during the 30’s and 40’s) and “Jews will not replace us” has the Jewish community on high alert. And it should have everyone of good conscience on high alert as well.

This last week saw the wave of terror attacks upon CNN, Democratic party leaders and those who are vocal critics of the President. The bombs that were mailed and delivered to CNN, the Clintons, President Obama, Vice President Biden and philanthropist George Soros could have resulted in a mass assassination. And last week in Louisville, Kentucky another white supremacist tried to enter a black church to kill people found it locked and went to the local market and killed two African American seniors. And the Administration tried to destroy the lives of our transgender family through a heinous policy that would erase their identities.

Words matter. And these words of hatred are leading to actions. The environment of hate fueled by Fox news, the president’s rhetoric and the deep divisions between red and blue America is stoking this violence.

For many in the Jewish community, we are reliving the nightmares of our parents and grandparents and who were victims of the Holocaust. It is beginning to feel like the early 1930’s in Germany when duly elected, Hitler rose to power targeting all who weren’t “Arayan” which was code for white Christian Germans. Each day of the hatred, the targeting, the code words that for those in the know are Anti-Semitic in origin, activates the trauma we hold in our Jewish communal psyche.

To those who say it can’t happen here, we are already watching as the government locks up innocent refugees and their children who are escaping the drug lords and violence in their home countries. We are already seeing the mass incarceration of black and brown people by law enforcement and white people getting away without conviction for the same crimes. The erosion of our civil rights and the purposeful disenfranchisement of voters yet another blatant reminder of the tactics of Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin.

We see the policies of the administration trying to erase LGBTQ people and our civil rights. Attacks on the free press and the murder and targeting of journalists who try to report the truth and point out the hypocrisy of the administration’s policies and the greed of our elected officials of every party have all the markings and trappings of a government that is no longer by the people, for the people.

This is the challenge to cross the lines of identity politics and join together to defeat at the ballot box those who espouse such heinous bigotry that fuels and inflames the angry backlash of the MAGA crowd.

Only by going to the ballot box can we defeat the UnAmerican and Unpatriotic thread that is Trumpism.

As a rabbi, my ethical teaching in the Torah are built around two key ideals. First that all people are created in the Divine image. Regardless of our race, or gender, or sexual orientation or gender expression or nationality or religion. We are all reflections of the Force that Sustains the Universe.

And I also turn to this phrase: “Love your neighbor as yourself”. For in my neighbor I see the Divine and all that is holy.

If only we would live by these maxims and truths we could strengthen each other, lift up each other and pray for the best for our neighbor and have their back. These teaching help build empathy for one another. This is the America I once believed in and hoped for. I remain committed to working for it to once again. Let’s start changing America by loving each other enough to care for one another and by getting out to vote!

This is how I will sew my shattered heart back together.

— Join Rabbi Eger and Rabbi Chaiken for 45 minutes on Tuesday evening October 30 at 6:45-7:30 pm at Congregation Kol Ami for a time of Prayer, Healing and Remembrance for the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue Terror Attack.

Congregation Kol Ami,
West Hollywood’s Reform Synagogue
1200 N. La Brea Ave
West Hollywood, Ca 90038
#KOLAMISTRONG

Rabbi Denise L. Eger is the founding Rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, CA, a long time LGBTQ activist and the immediate past president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

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Florida school district to force teachers to Out LGBTQ+ students

Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ is doing EXACTLY what LGBTQ advocates warned it would do even though formal written LGBTQ policies not yet released

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Orange County Public Schools logo, public domain image. Photo of bullied teen girl licensed from Adobe Stock.

By James Finn | ORLANDO – The 9th largest school district in the U.S. just advised its 25,000 teachers and staff that they must inform parents if a student “comes out” to them.

That’s just for starters. Keep reading, because Don’t Say Gay exploded this week in Orange County, Florida, home of Orlando and a dense population that includes 205,000 public school students.

LGBTQ advocates and teachers in Florida are shouting, “We told you so!” as Orange County Public Schools announces policies to enforce Governor Ron DeSantis’s Don’t Say Gay law, formally known as the Parental Rights in Education Act. Advocates have warned for months that the law’s vague wording and provisions to allow parents to sue school districts would prompt draconian anti-LGBTQ regulations. That’s exactly what’s happening in Orange County today.

* Outing LGBTQ teens to unsupportive parents isn’t just bad policy. It’s a moral outrage, an affront to human decency. *

ABC affiliate WFTV reported on Monday that Orange County Public Schools held an administrators-only seminar last week to advise principals on what behaviors would and would not be permissible under the new law. They also report that representatives of the Florida Classroom Teachers Association (CTA) have informed them of new policies they’ve learned about through other channels.

Here’s the lowdown so far on Orange County schools and new LGBTQ polices:

  1. Teachers must report to parents if a student ‘comes out’ to them.
  2. Teachers must use pronouns assigned at birth, regardless of what the parents allow, meaning teachers must misgender trans students in class.
  3. Teachers must remove stickers denoting a particular classroom is a “safe space” for LGBTQ students and others.
  4. Teachers cannot wear rainbows on their clothing, “including lanyards distributed by the district last year.”
  5. Elementary-level teachers are discouraged from putting pictures of their same-sex spouse on their desk or talking about them to students. Teachers are not being discouraged from putting pictures of opposite-sex spouses on their desks.

Teachers are alarmed and speaking out

Several LGBTQ teachers in Florida’s Miami/Dade and Orange counties have reached out to me privately saying they’ve quit their jobs or they’re planning to soon. The Washington Post and NBC News reported recently that LGBTQ teachers in Florida are leaving the profession in significant numbers. Many, however, are staying, determined to fight for justice and equality, and to provide a safe haven for LGBTQ kids.

CTA President-Elect Clinton McCracken is on the record urging Orange County Public Schools to rethink policies: “It will be alarming if our district chooses to interpret this law in the most extreme way. We want them to protect student privacy. We want them to make sure that they’re creating and helping to create safe classrooms. We believe our school board supports that.”

The consequences of outing are STAGGERING.

According to the Trevor Project, LGBTQ students are already at a high risk for anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. These risks multiply bigtime if a student is outed to unsupportive parents.

Also, outing teens to unsupportive parents dramatically increases their risk of homelessness. The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law has found that 45 percent of homeless youth in the U.S. identify as LGBTQ, a hugely disproportionate number. They further found that 43 percent of LGBTQ youth were kicked out of the home by unsupportive parents.

Outing LGBTQ teens to unsupportive parents isn’t just bad policy. It’s a moral outrage, an affront to human decency.

Mandatory misgendering of trans students will cause serious harm

I don’t know if anyone at the district level thought the misgendering policy through, but the implications, as with outing, are staggering. Many trans students attend schools where their peers have no idea they’re trans, often because they transferred into the district fully presenting as their gender. Usual school privacy practice around the nation requires teachers not to out these students, regardless of what’s on their birth certificate.

I can’t imagine the justification for suddenly forcing teachers to violate student privacy instead of protect it. I can, however, imagine the anguish that will result. And the jeers. And the bullying. And the tragic consequences.

I can also imagine the anguish of newly transitioning students who started their summer vacations thinking of school as a safe, supportive space where they were free to be themselves, only to return in the fall to a school where their teachers must misgender them.

Forbidding rainbows and safe-space stickers sends a cruel, bullying message

Little rainbow flags and stickers that let LGBTQ kids know they are safe and truly welcome do a great deal of good and no harm. They say, “We value you for who you are. You can come here to this space, and know you will find an adult you can trust. You can report bullying here and be assured the adult you’re reporting it to accepts and values LGBTQ people.”

Forcing teachers to remove those symbols doesn’t just remove the safe space, it sends a toxic message to the entire student body: “LGBTQ people and ideas are too controversial to be open about in school. Rainbow flags are not positive symbols of diversity, love and, acceptance. They’re so toxic, and some people hate what they stand for so much, that they have no place in school.”

I don’t care if you’re gay, straight, bi, cis, trans, or nonbinary, that message spreads intolerance and even hatred.

Discouraging same-sex married teachers from being open about their families also spreads intolerance and hatred

We Americans live in a pluralistic society where people of all races, ethnic origins, and religions live and work together. An overwhelming majority of people in the U.S. have no problem with same-sex marriage, and while a loud minority have a serious problem with it, it’s legal and common and not going anywhere.

Telling gay and bisexual teachers not to talk about their families or display photos of their families in circumstances where straight teachers ordinarily do so sends a terrible message to school employees and students. “Something is wrong with you and your family, so wrong that students must not see or hear anything about your family.”

That message is not pluralistic, it’s not American, and it’s certainly not healthy. It demonizes LGBTQ people as it promotes shaming and discrimination. Utterly unacceptable.

None of this is set in stone yet. Raise your voice!

According to WFTV, that district-wide meeting with administrators last week did not include formal written LGBTQ policies, which have not yet been released. There’s still time to tell Orange County Public Schools policy makers that their proposals will do great harm, that their leaked policies are toxic and morally outrageous.

Outing LGBTQ kids to unsupportive parents? What are they THINKING? Reach out to Orange County Public Schools today, right now, and demand they do do better.

You can contact the district office here, and find contact information for school board members here.

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James Finn is a columnist for the LA Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

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The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

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Major Pride events disrupted as Extremists go after small children

In Nevada, masked Proud Boys threatened a group of small children and their parents observing Pride, causing the families to flee in panic

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Proud Boy members protesting a Pride Event at a Nevada library, minutes before one of the men stalked toward the event with a gun in his hands, causing children and parents to flee. Screenshots/KRNV

By James Finn | DETROIT – Chaos broke out over the weekend in New York City and San Francisco as participants at the two largest, oldest U.S. Pride parades panicked over reported gunfire. In Nevada, masked Proud Boys threatened a group of small children and their parents observing Pride, causing the families to flee in panic.

According to the Washington Post, “loud noises” on Sunday sent Pride crowds in New York’s Washington Square Park “fleeing and nearly caused a stampede.”

Some witnesses, who reported minor injuries requiring medical attention, say “nearly” misses the mark. The noises were later determined to be fireworks, according to parade organizers, who suggest ongoing threats of violence had Pride attendees on edge.

Panic over reported gunshots, and a gun, at weekend Pride events

Chaos broke out over the weekend in New York City and San Francisco as participants at the two largest, oldest U.S. Pride parades panicked over reported gunfire. In Nevada, masked Proud Boys threatened a group of small children and their parents observing Pride, causing the families to flee in panic.

According to the Washington Post, “loud noises” on Sunday sent Pride crowds in New York’s Washington Square Park “fleeing and nearly caused a stampede.”

Some witnesses, who reported minor injuries requiring medical attention, say “nearly” misses the mark. The noises were later determined to be fireworks, according to parade organizers, who suggest ongoing threats of violence had Pride attendees on edge.

Thousands flee San Francisco Pride

On Saturday, panic broke out at San Francisco Pride, as reported by Kylie Robison of Insider, who was there. “I was at pride, she tweeted, “and people started screaming, running, saying there was shots fired. I started running with the crowd but its just wild to live in a country where we’re all prepared to run or die like that.”

According to NBC News, San Francisco Pride ended early after somebody started spraying mace near the San Francisco Civic Center: “The incident caused a panic and in the hour that followed there were reports of street brawls as people left the event.”

Other reports suggest people stampeded over sounds of gunfire. A security guard told NBC that “two stampedes broke out with crowds running for the exits amid rumors of a gun.”

Details are unclear, but it appears no shots were fired. Reports of mace are conflicting and unconfirmed, but the fear and panic were very real.

“I was at the SF pride event with my son,” one witness comments. “I can only describe it as World War Z type of panic. At first a group of a few hundred sprinters dodged through the area near the exit. The second wave was thousands of people, many crying, most in fear running to the exits.”

Children flee Nevada Pride event when Proud Boy approaches with a gun

So far as reporters are able to confirm, no actual guns were involved in the San Francisco and NYC Pride stampedes, but on Sunday, Proud Boys protesters menaced a Pride event at the Sparks Library in Reno, Nevada. Multiple news sources, including the LA Blade, report that a group of Proud Boys disrupted a drag queen story hour, chanting obscenities and screaming that parents who brought their children to Pride are “groomers” and “molesters.”

Reno police had been monitoring, but when protesters began to drift away, officers reportedly left the scene. Then one of the Proud Boys pulled out a gun and approached the crowd of parents and children. Details are conflicting, some witnesses reporting that the masked man screamed and waved his gun, others that he just held it in his hands as he approached the children.

Witnesses all agree that the families fled into the library, many of the children screaming and crying.

LGBTQ people face rising tides of violence and extremism

Pride observers in NYC and San Francisco may have over-reacted, but not without cause. Most of them were probably aware of a mass shooting early Saturday in Oslo, Norway that claimed the lives of two people and seriously injured ten more outside a popular gay club. Police charged a 42-year-old man with murder, and Oslo’s Pride parade, scheduled for later in the day, was canceled.

Attendees were likely also aware that several U.S. Pride events this year have been menaced by Christian nationalist groups like the Patriot Front, 31 of whom were arrested — with body armor, riot gear, and at least one smoke grenade — on their way to terrorize Pride in Idaho. Groups of masked Proud Boys have terrorized children at several library events this month, including at the San Lorenzo Library in California and at a North Carolina library near Wilmington. Sherriff’s deputies in the latter case tacitly encouraged the Proud Boys, fist bumping them and engaging in casual banter instead of stopping them from screaming at small children.

God, guns, and glory, shout Christian nationalist extremists

Social media is a frightening place to be LGBTQ these days, with conservative Christian leaders openly calling for transgender and gay people to be executed. Their posts and media accounts, like this Steadfast Baptist Church account on Twitter and this one on Facebook, are often left standing by managers at Facebook and Twitter, who cite freedom of religious expression.

Steadfast pastors at several U.S. churches this year have called for LGBTQ people to be killed, and if their threats frighten us, can you blame us? Instead of being arrested and incarcerated or committed, these religious extremists continue to incite violence and call for their supporters to arm themselves.

Gods, guns, and glory is the conservative rallying cry today, which married to rising anti-LGBTQ extremism, makes violent threats sound all the more ominous.

Also ominously, just last week, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a New York State that makes it a crime to carry a concealed firearm without a license. The decision will mean that nearly anyone who wants to carry a gun in public will be able to.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul said, “This decision isn’t just reckless, it’s reprehensible.”

Maybe that’s what some of those stampeding people in Washington Square were thinking about when they thought they heard gunshots.

Americans of good will have to act together to take our country back

The pro-LGBTQ media organization GLAAD calls for Americans to resist the increasing arming of our society, to protest the recent Supreme Court decision that blocks sensible gun licensing and regulation.

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis also calls out anti-LGBTQ laws and false propaganda messaging, calling on politicians and social media managers to reign in toxic rhetoric that equates LGBTQ people to sexualizing “groomers” who prey on children:

Ellis says, “Lawmakers and Governors like DeSantis and Abbott, along with their co-conspirators at Fox News, better pause today and recognize that their anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and the nearly 250 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced this year are responsible for this dangerous climate.”

She adds that “Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media platforms must also take responsibility and urgently stop fueling the hate and misinformation that inspire white supremacist groups like the Patriot Front.”

I join Ellis in calling for an end to the vilification of LGBTQ people for political gain. What we saw this weekend in New York City, San Francisco and Reno should be a wakeup call. Do we need another tragic anti-LGBTQ mass shooting like Pulse, or like JUST HAPPENED in Norway, before we confront the dangerous reality of the path we’re on?

What’s the solution? I don’t have all the answers, but I know we must turn out in massive numbers this November to elect an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress, which no matter what our political views, is the only way to stop the minority of extremists who now dominate the Republican Party, the only way to bring the increasingly reckless Supreme Court under control.

If we don’t act together now, mark my words, near-future articles won’t be about stampedes at Pride, they’ll be about massacres.

Breaking update: Pink News is reporting that a trans teenager is hospitalized with a fractured skull and brain abnormalities, and that two other people were hospitalized in a terrifying attack after Pride celebrations on Saturday in Dublin, Ireland. Five people in total were attacked at St. Stephen’s Green while celebrating Pride after the official event concluded.

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James Finn is a columnist for the LA Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

********************

The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

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Turkey Pride crackdowns only strengthen LGBTQ+ resistance

Hundreds arrested in Istanbul on Sunday

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Police crackdown on the Istanbul Pride march on June 26, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Hayri Tunç)

The waving colors of the thousand shades inside of a rainbow,

The sparkling joy from the pride and honor of self-declaration, 

The echoing sounds of the steps for solidarity in the cobblestone streets of İstanbul, 

To unite for equality, for justice, for solely our right to be. 

This was our goal, our expectation and our hope for Pride Turkey 2022. It has, however, been overshadowed by the government’s vicious attempts to repress the colors of the LGBTQI+ community. 

First, it started with the ban of Pride speeches and panels that many district governors and other local authorities across Turkey announced. Local police officers raided the many event venues as if “illegal” activities were being conducted. 

As in the last couple of years, it was already expected the government would ban the Pride marches in many cities. It was, however, the first time the government officially tried to prevent even face-to-face community gatherings of LGBTQI+ organizations. It was a type of intervention reflecting the level of fear and intolerance of the government regarding the growing connection, solidarity and public visibility of LGBTQI+ community.

Nevertheless, oppression often brings out the most creative means. As such, Pride committees have carried all the activities on digital platforms. Many activists and civil society representatives have shown support by participating in live broadcasts from event venues, and the voice of LGBTQI+ solidarity still reached a wide audience. 

Subsequently, the most drastic pressure by the government has manifested itself during the Pride marches. The police violently intervened and used unproportionate force against marchers in many cities, which resulted in a radical number of unwarranted detentions. 

While 530 LGBTQI+ activists were taken into custody over the last 37 days across Turkey, 373 of them were arrested during the Istanbul Pride march on June 26. This constitutes a first, since the Istanbul Pride arrests constituted the largest number of people taken into custody during a street march since the Gezi protests.

Will these enormous efforts to pressure win the day? The answer is “definitely no.” On the contrary, it sparked a backlash by triggering strong solidarity among Turkey’s queer community. The outstanding resistance of LGBTQI+ marchers gained public recognition on social media, while persistent legal support of LGBTQI+ initiatives canceled all the detentions. In the end, the exhaustive pressures of the government could not manage to fade the multicolor of LGBTQI+ identity. In fact, it helped our rainbow flag to shine even more glamorous and visible.  

We, as members of the LGBTQI+ community, have once again proved through this entire experience that solidarity, togetherness and collective resistance are the most powerful facilitators in our fight to exist equally.   

In honor of the unbreakable resistance of Turkey Pride 2022 supporters, 

Thanks to you, the cobblestones of Istanbul and every street in Turkey echoed with the steps of LGBTQI+ solidarity.

Dilek İçten is a journalist, researcher and civil society expert with a demonstrated history of working in interdisciplinary and investigative research projects examining the socio-cultural dynamics of media, gender and migration. The focus of her work varies from freedom of expression, media censorship and journalistic independence to gender based-discrimination and hate speech against disadvantaged groups and minorities.

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