December 22, 2011

An Age of Tolerance?

Earlier this week we went to a family friend’s 80th birthday party. My grandmother is best friends with the birthday boy and his wife, my mom grew up with the kids (who are all in their 50s) and I practically grew up with the grandkids. They are lovely people and we try to see them every few years, even though it means putting up with the man I am labeling “The Antagonist,” the husband of one the “kids." The Antagonist is one of those ridiculously avid Republicans who likes to let you know his opinions, no matter how offensive they are.

At this party I went over to The Antagonist's table to talk to his daughter (a friend of mine). My mother walked over at some point and he felt the urge to try to annoy us (we’re both very liberal). He said (admittedly with jovial kindness), “Liberals and abortionists are the source of all evil in the world.” Verbatim. He went on for a while saying equally ridiculous rubbish. Fortunately we left before he had the chance to say anything about the LGBT community.

Do you ever have instance where you pretend to have a conversation with someone and you come up with really witty answers that you wish you could have said out loud? Well I do. And this guy got me thinking: what would I have responded if his next sentence had been: “Gays are (also) the source of all evil in the world.” (I would like to note that I do not mean to put words in this guy’s mouth or ideas in this man’s head nor I do not actually know his opinion about the LGBT community, and I would very much like to assume he doesn’t have a negative one. He was merely my springboard for this post.)

Gays are the source of all evil? That’s funny because for most of our history, certainly throughout the Westernized world, Jews were thought to the source of all evil. (Note: Both The Antagonist and I are Jews.) In ancient times the Romans went on crusades to suppress the Jews; in the Renaissance and the Middle Ages the Jews were exiled from several European countries (most famously in the Spanish Inquisition in which Jews could either convert to Catholicism or leave the country); and most recently in the Holocaust. All because they were different: they believed in one God; they were not Christians; they were not “Arian.” For the better part of two millennia, the Jews have been hated. And then what happened? People stopped hating the Jews. I don’t mean to say that anti-semitism is not still rampant in certain parts of the world; I do mean that in a lot of the Westernized world people have stopped thinking that practicing a different religion means you belong to a different species. It’s as much “ok” to be Jewish as it is to be Christian, or Muslim, or Buddhist, etc.

I could go on giving these examples. Need we examine the history of blacks in the Americas? (For the sake of the length of this post, I am not going to delve into details, but you get where I’m going.)

What make the LGBT community any different? For too long both blacks and Jews were hated because of who they were. These were things that people could not change about themselves (note: I understand that one’s religion is more flexible than the color of one’s skin.) Now, at least in the parts of the world I have been, it is taboo to be racist against blacks and against Jews, but for some reason not against gays and lesbians and transgenders etc.

To me, it seems like the LGBT community is experiencing now what Jews and blacks were experiencing centuries and decades ago: either being asked to suppress who they are or being treated like second class citizens because of who they are.

I do not need to tell all of you that only 8 places in the US have legalized gay marriage and that only 6 more recognize same-sex domestic partnerships or civil unions. I do not need to tell you about Amendment 1. I do not need to tell you that even though transgenderism and transexuality are medically recognized conditions and that there are specialized psychologists and surgeons to help with transition, most insurance companies will not pay for gender reassignment surgery (the surgery itself averaging about $17,000, not to mention the additional costs for hormone therapy, doctors visits and therapy). I do not to tell you that even in states that legally recognize same-sex marriage, many religious institutions still refuse to hold service (for example, my congregation in New York will not hold a marriage ceremony for same-sex couples, mostly because many of the members object so the Rabbi feels his hands are tied). I do not need to tell you that being gay or lesbian or transgender has no more an effect on the quality of one’s character than does being straight, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, white, black, yellow or red. I do not need to tell you that in an age of tolerance it is unjust that our society continues to accept intolerance towards sexuality. I do not doubt that centuries (or even hopefully decades [or really hopefully much sooner]) down the road people will look back at our society's intolerance toward the LGBT community and view it with as much disdain as we look upon segregation and religious and ethnic intolerance. In such a relatively tolernt age, the LGBT community should not have to wait that long to receive the kind of acceptance (and legal rights) that Jews and blacks have received. Although, I know I didn’t have to tell that to you that either.

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