The following feature was written by Stephen Richer in honor of this week’s Washington, DC’s Gay Pride Festival (click here for schedule of events) and the continued Jewish involvement in this event. This piece reflects only the opinion of Stephen.
The following exchange takes place at the beginning of Fiddler on the Roof (my source of Jewish knowledge growing up in Utah):
Lebisch: Rabbi! May I ask you a question?
Rabbi: Certainly, Lebisch!
Lebisch: Is there a proper blessing… for the Tsar?
Rabbi: A blessing for the Tsar? Of course! May God bless and keep the Tsar… far away from us!
This libertarian mentality of “live and let live” has long pervaded the Jewish philosophy. It’s not hard to understand why: Historically, we Jews have done quite well when free from active state persecution. Consider both Twelfth Century Spain and Nineteenth Century Germany – we were second-class citizens, but we temporarily avoided active state persecution, and we flourished.
As Jewish standing progressed (especially in the United States), our libertarian principles evolved from “Just don’t bother us” to “We’re not asking for any special benefits; just treat us as equal under the law.” This movement combatted artificial limitations on Jews in business, government, and academia, laws that discriminated against Jews, and laws that inhibited the practice of Judaism.
It’s these philosophies (among others) that have led a high percentage of Jews to support gay rights (76% of American Jews support gay marriage). After all, the gay rights movement can be seen as a rough reflection of our own progression: Like Jews, gays first lobbied simply for neglect – just don’t assault us, throw rocks at our buildings, etc. After some progress, the gay movement initiated the same steps of early Twentieth Century Jews: equal treatment under the law, no special quotas or categories, no differential treatment under the law.
I trust that the gay community of America can soon catch the Jewish American journey, arriving at a position of equality under the law and respect in society. But it has started too late, and it’s moving too slowly. We Jews should be at the forefront of groups that accelerate the movement, and Washington, DC’s Gay Pride Week is a perfect time to express support. Fifty years from now, society will view our unequal treatment of gays with the same contempt that we now view “separate but equal” laws that prevented real equality for Black Americans and laws that inhibited interracial marriage. Let’s make sure that we Jews – as people who have similarly fought for equality of law – can look back on our activity in this battle with a great deal of pride.
See this calendar for a schedule of this week’s Gay Pride events.
See this post for information on Jewish involvement in Washington’s Gay Pride festival.
A few famous LGBTQ Jews (taken from larger list at Wikipedia):
- David Cicilline, the Mayor of Providence, Rhode Island became a member of the United States House of Representatives in 2011.
- Barney Frank, Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives
- Harvey Milk, former San Francisco city supervisor
- Jared Polis, the Colorado Democrat, a former Internet entrepreneur, became the first openly gay non-incumbent male elected to Congress
- Allan Bloom, philosopher
- Judith Butler, philosopher
- Allen Ginsberg, US Beat generation poet
- Gertrude Stein, writer
- Annie Leibovitz, portrait photographer and life partner of writer Susan Sontag.[citation needed
- Marc Jacobs, fashion designer