IN GOD'S NAME: March and Rally in Brooklyn Protests Homophobic Hate-Speech
Demonstrators at In God's Name - Hate Is the Abomination prepare for
the traditional recitation of the Kadish, the Hebrew Mourners' Prayer.
I had blogged previously about Queer Rising's event, IN GOD'S NAME - HATE IS THE ABOMINATION. With wind chill factors in the low teens as I headed out to Brooklyn, I didn't expect to find many people in attendance. It was quite a pleasant surprise then to see so many show up on such a cold night for a rally "inspired" to challenge the homophobic hate-speech coming from a few ultra-right wing Orthodox Rabbis led by Yehuda Levin.
Levin most recently made the news during Carl Paladino's unsuccessful campaign for NY Governor, when then-candidate Paladino was eager for the endorsement of this fringe figure. It was he who wrote Paladino's famous quote "I don't want [children] brainwashed into thinking homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option. It isn't." According to Levin, the terrorist attacks on 9/11 were God's punishment for NYC establishing a domestic partnership registry. Hurricane Katrina's devastation of New Orleans was divine retribution for that city's hosting of a circuit party. Levin claims to oppose anyone who would use violence against the LGBT community, but in 2006 he organized the drive to stop WorldPride, an LGBT pride event in Jerusalem, promising, "There's going to be bloodshed - not just on that day, but for months afterward."
But even though Queer Rising organized this event in Flatbush, the Brooklyn neighborhood where Levin and his (few) supporters live, Levin wasn't the sole focus of the protest. This is just the first of what will be many similar protests in the future, challenging the rhetoric coming from religious "leaders" who cloak their homophobia behind their faith, homophobia that fosters the societal attitudes encouraging the gay-bashers who directly attack us and, perhaps even more insidiously, enabling the bullies, the teachers, and yes, even the parents who drive our youths to harm themselves in futile acts of desperation.
As Jake Goodman, a member of Queer Rising who emceed the event, explains in a beautifully written guest blog posted tonight on Pam's house Blend, "We decided instead to build a coalition. We communicated with over 100 rabbis from every denomination. We visited support groups for ex-Orthodox gay Jews. We partnered with other organizations and communities that were doing related work. We mobilized both Jewish and queer organizations to collaborate...In the end, the success of "In God's Name" can be measured by who showed up: people of every sexual orientation, Jews of every denomination (including the unaffiliated), non-Jews, atheists, old people, young people, white people, Latino people, African Americans. Rally speakers included a lesbian rabbi (Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum), an Orthodox rabbi (Rabbi Maurice Appelbaum), an Israeli nonprofit executive (Idit Klein) and a gay union leader (Stuart Appelbaum). We were endorsed by synagogues large and small, queer and AIDS-related activist groups, hospitals, arts youth groups, community centers, etc."
"It is shocking and appalling that some individuals who might pray three times a day and endeavor to keep every law in the books, are the same ones violating our very tenets and the most important laws that we have," Rabbi Applebaum told the crowd at the rally.
Rabbi Kleinbaum reminded us of the inherent power of words for good and for ill, and the horrifying consequences of allowing hate-speech to go unchallenged. Stuart Applebaum continued, "But our words have power, too. And we must use our words to condemn those who would pervert their religion... to use it as a means of discrimination and destruction."
"If [our community leaders] preach hatred and shame and defile the name of God to justify homophobic bias and unjust acts, we call upon all of you to raise your voices and say ‘Enough!’ For hate is, indeed, the abomination,” said Idit Klein.
After the (mercifully short, considering the frigid temperatures) rally, the crowd marched through the neighborhood, singing Hebrew and American folk songs. (I'll have to admit, "This Little Light of Mine" was the only one I knew.) At every door and window, we saw the faces of the neighborhood, watching us. There was a heavy police presence, whether there to protect or control us I can't say, but it was completely unnecessary. This protest went without any unpleasantness at all. I didn't hear one derogatory comment from any of the people we passed on the street.
At the end of the march, the crowd gathered to recite the Kaddish, the traditional Hebrew Mourner's Prayer, in memory of all of the victims, both known and unknown, of misplaced religious homophobia.
In this video I've tried to encapsulate the experience of being at this demonstration for those who could not attend. It is my hope that you will watch it and experience the same powerful and positive emotions I felt that night.