Posted by Kalil Cohen
In a time of increased polarity, where the right seems to be growing more violent, afraid, and vindictive, and where queer people are caught in the spotlight of the culture wars, I feel so lucky to be a Jew. Certainly not all Jews and not all Jewish communities are open and welcoming to LGBTQ folks, but many are. Every Jewish service or gathering that I have been to in the past couple of weeks has not only mentioned the problem of harassment toward LGBTQ students and it’s root causes, but issued a call to action from its members to act on this problem. As a queer Jew in non-queer Jewish spaces, this has lifted me up, and filled me with hope. Not all LGBTQ youth experience harassment and bullying in schools, and no one should have to experience this type of intimidation and violence. Knowing that many Jews and Jewish communities support my convictions makes me feel even that much more comfortable within the Jewish spaces that I inhabit.
The current rash of teen suicides also holds deeply personal meaning for me. I teach middle school students, and also train teachers in working with LGBTQ youth and teach them strategies for creating safe environments for all students in their classes. I am also currently in production on a film, The Next Gender Nation, which highlights the particular challenges faced by gender variant students (those who do not neatly fit into the girl/boy model of school life).
This work has always been incredibly important to me because of the high drop out rate of gender variant students, and because of the depression and negative behaviors that often result from extreme harassment and mistreatment. Hearing from students can create a powerful catalyst to inspire educators to become better allies. This often requires teachers to stand up for their students when administrators are acting unjustly, or when other teachers are singling students out for abuse.
Most of the youth I interviewed for The Next Gender Nation experienced harassment from administrators and teachers, which they categorized as significantly worse than the bullying they experienced from peers. As one interviewee described her experiences of harassment in middle school: “It was really the Deans, I can’t really remember any of the students. It wasn’t as bad as the Deans, just because, I guess, they had power. That was, that was my whole case since middle school. It was always Deans, not really students. And if it were they were it was, like, occasional. But when it was the dean’s it would be, like, whenever I see them.” She went on to describe specific ways in which she had been harassed by Deans, including intimidation: “One of the Deans told me that “my days are numbered.” This Dean also told my friend’s mom that “my days are numbered.” My friend’s mom then told my mother, who finally believed me that the Deans were unfairly targeting me.” This type of harassment is unacceptable and illegal. AB 537, the California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000 clearly states that schools have a responsibility to act when harassment is occurring based on a students’ gender identity or sexual orientation. My work as an educator is to inform school personnel of their legal obligation to protect students, and educate them about how to do so effectively. I hope that we can all pledge to work a little harder on this issue, to ensure that the next generation of students can experience a safer school climate than this generation. I know that those who came before me worked tirelessly to create greater opportunities for me, and now it is my turn to do so for those younger than myself.
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October 14, 2010 | 12:08 am
Posted by Lia Mandelbaum
On October 1,2010, my grandfather Jake Gottfried, passed away. He was a brilliant architect, and a humble, gentle man. My grandfather was, and still is, an exquisite role model to me, and showed me how to live my life with integrity. I mourn the loss of my grandfather, but amidst my sadness, I also feel a strong sense of peace and joy. I have tremendous gratitude and respect for the way he chose to live his life, and the love and dedication he showed his family.
In the past 3 years, I have witnessed the tragic loss of nearly twenty fellow Jews to the disease of addiction. The majority of them were under thirty years old. In the past few years, I have attended numerous memorials and funerals, where the air was thick of anger, loss, shock and despair. I experienced such deep pain watching as family member’s mourned the loss of their child or sibling to the disease of addiction. Prior to my Grandfather’s memorial, every funeral that I had experienced was the tragic loss of someone who had died way too soon. These were people I knew who had lost their lives struggling to achieve sobriety. Papa Jake gave me a gift by showing me what the full cycle of life is truly supposed to look like.
I am so grateful that my grandfather blessed me with the experience of attending a memorial that was truly a celebration of his life and not the tragedy of his death. More than 350 people were present to pay their respects to a wonderful man. As an architect, my Grandfather designed many buildings, schools, and temples all over Tampa. His memorial was held at Congregation Schaarai Zedek in Tampa, Florida where he was President of the Brotherhood for two years and a member of the congregation for more than 50 years. It was beautiful that his service was held in their sanctuary, a sacred space that he helped to design. The service was incredibly meaningful for me and to all my friends and family.
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to go home to Florida for my birthday and share some incredibly special moments with my Grandfather. Although he was suffering from dementia, it was very clear to me that he knew after many years of watching me struggle that I was finally at peace. I knew that he believed I was going to lead a happy and healthy life. He rubbed my back, like he did when I was a little girl , and looked at me with his joyful eyes. He asked me over and over again, how did I get to be so beautiful? This is a moment that I will treasure for the rest of my life.
I am saddened by this loss, but must honor him and keep him eternal by choosing to live my life with the same values and dignity that I have learned from him. I hope that as I near the end of my time, I will have left as big of an impact as my Grandfather has.
Rest in peace Papa Jake.
October 10, 2010 | 9:19 am
Posted by Maital Guttman
I love Sarah Silverman. I first met her in person at the GLAAD media awards. I love her irreverent sense of humor, but mostly I love how she uses this humor to make a point, and even make a difference. She got young people to make the “Great Schlep” down to Florida to convince their bubbes to vote Obama. By random good luck, I sat next to her on that cold inauguration day, 50 meters from where Obama was sworn into office. This week is no exception to her activism, when she takes a stance against bullying people who are gay. Importantly, she draws the connection between American policies against gay rights, including gay marriage and military service, and how these discriminatory practices send a message that trickles down to our children.
Thank you, Sarah, for speaking out and reminding us that discrimination against gay and lesbian youth is no joke.
October 8, 2010 | 12:35 pm
Posted by Naomi Goldberg
I’ve been horrified to hear about the recent rash of suicides of LGBT and other marginalized youth who have been bullied and made to feel worthless. How did we come to such a place where children feel that they have no escape from bullying but to kill themselves? While we can work on changing the minds of bullies and training educators, parents, and community members to stop bullying, I also think that we need to focus on the individuals who are being bullied. How can we better equip these young people to feel confident in who they are? Bullying will happen - whether it is about your sexual orientation, where your parents came from, your accent, your clothing, or the gestures you use, you may be bullied. But, we need to work to create communities where these young people feel supported in getting through it. No one should feel so alone and helpless that they jump off a bridge or hang themselves.
For a while, Keshet has been working to make schools, temples, summer camps, and other Jewish spaces safer for all people - including LGBT youth. Their programming has focused on training teachers and developing curriculum and school policies that fit within Jewish values promoting safe, supportive communities.
To this end, Keshet has started a campaign called “Do Not Stand Idly By: A Jewish Community Pledge to Save Lives.” In conjunction with more than 90 initial cosponors from across the Jewish community, this campaign seeks to educate and empower Jews to make the world safer for youth.
You can read more about the pledge and sign on here: http://thequeertimes.com/2010/10/jewish-community-responds-epidemic-glbt-teen-suicide/
On Monday, which is National Coming Out Day, Keshet will release the names of those who signed on. The goal is to reach 18,000 people. Be part of this effort. Spread the world. Make a difference. Do not stand idly by.
October 5, 2010 | 1:43 pm
Posted by Tera Greene
The other day I found myself dancing gayly - I mean, happily/freely - with fellow blogger, Kalil Cohen, in celebration of Simchat Torah. At one point in the night, I broke concentration from my intense jump, jivin’ and wailin’, and thought to myself whilst the Cantor and musicians got into a funky rhythm of Chiri Biri Bim, “Now all we need are disco balls…”
G-d was either just being silly, or completely listening (and in agreement), because not too long after my thought, I looked up and there, hanging from the ceiling, were Disco Balls! I laughed to myself, and totally enjoyed a nice lil’ example of a Homo Moment.
A quintessential ‘Mo Moment, at that. I couldn’t decide what was gayer, me or the gay - as in, ‘happy/festive’ - dancing and Hakafah‘ing beneath Disco Balls? Regardless of the fact that the disco balls make total sense because we are, after all, in the 5770s, we all know the secular-calendar ‘70s were super gay, so let’s not fake the funk.
The next day I began thinking of more ‘Mo Moments in Jewish History and have shared a short list herein.
No particular order, and yes, many have to do with Entertainment; though, let us not forget some of the gems hidden within our Biblical and Mitzvot references:
1) I’m a DJ, I used to dye my hair regularly in shades of red, and may go back to doing so. This video, with its House music references and G-d cast as a punky-female-House Head-Disc Jockey, is definitely a good ‘Mo Moment, especially when they begin the “House music all night long” chant. Classic.
The Adventures of Todd and God: How to Hang a Mezuzah
3) The late Bernard “Bernie” Schwartz in Some Like It Hot. Major Landmark ‘Mo Moment. Glad I got to be in his presence when I staffed this year’s 1st ever TCM Film Festival.
4) Any and Every Time the Y.M.C.A. is played at a wedding, Bar/Bat Mitzvah and the like. Now those are ‘Mo Moments of upper echelon status!
5) Glee’s character, Rachel… OK, she’s not really what I’m going for… The ‘Mo Moment lies in the fact that she is parented by two gay males, one Jewish and one Black. Nice Modern-Family-style ‘Mo Moment (though, I’ve yet to see these guys show face on my Hulu screen when I watch Glee. Hmmm…)
6) Harvey Bernard Milk. His pivotal ‘Mo Moment in LGBTQ/Jewish history spanned years, and still resonates.
7) G-d said be fruitful and multiply. In droves, more queers are coming out as the years go by, making less closeted lives emerge. No, life still ain’t easy, especially for so many teens (Jewish and Non-Jewish), but we have to highlight the fact that progress is being made, to the point that more and more visible Homo Moments have been thrust into mainstream society. Hashem said be fruitful, and thusly, the queers are multiplying! In the words of Billionaire “Monty” Burns, “Excellent.”
In celebration of LGBTQ History Month here in the United States, here’s to experiencing a ton of positive, positively ironic, and otherwise just intentionally - and unintentionally - brilliant, ‘Mo Moments for days and weeks and years to come. There are so many already etched in time, so many more to fashion from the latest hipster fabric of time, glitter inclusive, of course…
FYI - October 11, 2010 is officially National Coming Out Day.
Tera Greene is pretty much a ‘Mo Moment every step of the way… She has used National Coming Out Day at least once to open doors to her existence. Read more about her here.
October 5, 2010 | 10:50 am
Posted by Naomi Goldberg
The Jewish Standard, a Jewish newspaper in New Jersey, has announced that it will no longer include same-sex unions in the celebrations page - after publishing just one. You can read the note from the editor here.
The newspaper cites “pain and consternation” from traditional/Orthodox communities. You can read more about the decision and its backlash here.
While I’m angered by this decision, I’m heartened by the comments section. It is worth reading the comments section - the vast majority of posters are outraged at this decision.
Oh, and, just in case you’re wondering, same-sex unions (civil unions) are actually legal in New Jersey.
October 3, 2010 | 3:02 am
Posted by Maital Guttman
Haaretz reports that approximately 20% of adoptions in Israel are by same-sex couples, up 50% from 2008. The longer I am in Israel, the more fascinated I become with the way in which the country is dealing with homosexuality on a policy level. There seems to be a shift recently in accepting same-sex couples and their rights to adopt children, as these adoptions have increased by 50% since 2008:
“Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog has been reforming his ministry’s policies toward adoptions by same-sex couples. Under the new policies, these adoptions are be judged based on the interests of the child, not in light of the parents’ sexual orientation.”
Read the entire article here: http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/adoptions-by-same-sex-couples-single-parents-see-uptick-1.314661
September 27, 2010 | 10:12 pm
Posted by Chanel Dubofsky
I read a book during Yom Kippur services this year. Not a prayer book, or even anything on Judaism, just a novel, albeit a good one. I felt like a jerk, but it was either bring a book or not show up at all, and honestly, I wasn’t prepared to deal with that particular guilt.
It’s the liturgy that does me in, the persistent gendering of Gd, and the feeling that I can’t shake that everyone around me is faking the connection. Let’s be honest, I usually am, in some capacity, and this time of year. Of course, I’m supposed to be wrestling with text, I’m supposed to be uncomfortable, it’s supposed to be hard work, everyone is feeling these things. Fine. In spite of this, tr I was totally unable to even open the Silverman machzor, where Gd is a man, and the King (I know, I know, it’s the season.) I can’t even handle the concept of Gd as a woman, I just keep thinking about the sheer gall of humans being able to decide that Gd, an idea, a presence, an unknowable source of awe, can be defined, can be attributed power, via something as limited and insidious as the gender binary.