When I was a young college student, I was not just ‘tolerant’, or even an ‘ally’, but I was avidly pro gay. This was a time when, if not rare, such a stance was unusual among straight people, at least outside of the world of design or of theater. Not only wasn’t I homophobic, but I was homo-philic. I went out of my way to keep company with gay people, especially with lesbians, who were less likely to mistake my motivation.
One of the reasons I gave for my attitude was that I felt that gays and lesbians were “The Jews” of America. I had experienced very little anti-Semitism in my life to that point. And, at the end of the seventies and the start of the eighties it seemed to poor naïve suburban-raised me, that racism was waning. Certainly much progress on civil rights had been made. But it was still American as apple pie to hate gay people. Analogously to Jews, they had also developed a culture that was based on mutual support in the face of oppression, and that seemed to me creative and steeped in humor in ways that resonated with Jewish culture. My support was visceral. Emotionally, I could not understand why equality even had to be fought for, but was not simply understood. The cause was a self-evidently just as the emancipation of the Jews in Europe.
“The Jews” of America. John Lennon wrote a song called Woman is the N-word of the World, whose title is viewed by some young people on its face as both a sexist and a racist sentiment. In the current highly sensitized cultural mood, no one is going to cue it up and listen to a white man sing the n-word, or a former spouse abuser trying to say something supportive about women’s rights. So be it. Lennon was trying to illuminate both maltreatment and the potential for resistance. And it was in that sense that I made the analogy as well. If people who have been targets of intolerance stuck together, there would be no majority. That was also the point that Jessie Jackson made in 1988 in his “Patchwork Quilt Speech”. He was trying to redeem himself from the anti-semitism that had prevented him from being the Bernie Sanders of that particular election cycle. And he also spoke the words Gay and Lesbian out loud and supportively at a national political convention for the first time.
This morning I woke to news of a horrific domestic terrorist attack. I don’t have the details yet, but according to the headline, twenty people were killed in Orlando, in a shooting at a gay club. If so, it would be the worst anti-Gay violence in America since the UpStairs Lounge night club fire, an arson attack that killed thirty two people on gay pride weekend in 1973, and which people barely know and talk about.
Even in an era when public anti-Semitism is making a comeback, we are safe here in the US. By historical standards, safer than Jews have been anywhere, ever. But we will not be for long unless as Jews, we speak out about other people who are on the receiving end of bigotry and hatred. I mourn today with every gay and lesbian and bisexual and queer and transgender American, every member of a sexual minority not adequately acknowledged or understood, let alone accepted. Your sorrow is mine. Your hope for a better world, may it come swiftly, and in our day, is my hope too.