You’re invited to a special World AIDS Day memorial in Melbourne, December 1 2011.
On July 27 2011 I had a conversation with Manny Waks, then president of the Canberra Jewish Community and a Vice President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, in which he agreed to sponsor a motion at the 2011 AGM of the ECAJ promoting greater respect of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in Australia’s Jewish community.
Four months later, on November 27 2011, the following resolution was unanimously passed at the ECAJ AGM:
Policy on counteracting hatred and discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons
RECOGNISES that the Australian Jewish community is part of the Jewish people worldwide, with a shared history, culture and religious tradition is at the same time diverse and pluralistic, with its members holding different views on a range of issues;
CALLS FOR mutual respect for the human dignity of all members of the community, despite any strongly held differences; recognition that disagreement is possible in ways that do not vilify other persons or their views; and avoidance of any public or private conduct that incites hatred, ridicule or contempt of another person or class of persons on the ground of their sexual orientation or gender identity; and, in accordance with the aforesaid principles;
OPPOSES any form of hatred of any person on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity;
ACKNOWLEDGES that there is still much work to be done to remove intolerance of and unlawful discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons in the Jewish community and the wider Australian community, and to provide adequate services and support for them and their families; and
CALLS ON persons and organisations in the Jewish community to support that work both in our community and in the wider Australian community.
This motion passed by the ECAJ joins similar motions passed by the Victorian, New South Wales and ACT Jewish communities. Whilst time will tell how effective these motions will be in helping provide a safer and more tolerant place for GLBT Australians, I am confident that this milestone in the history of Australian Jewry will help pave the way to a greater understanding, acceptance and inclusion of GLBT people.
Announced on J-Wire today:
Professor Kim Rubenstein has been elected president of the Canberra Jewish Community.
Professor Rubenstein has served as the community’s Vice President over the past year. She is Professor and Director of the Centre for International and Public Law at the Australian National University, and also Convenor of the ANU Gender Institute.
Over on the ANU Gender Institute news page:
Professor Kim Rubenstein appointed convenor of new ANU Gender Institute
4 January 2011
ANU is delighted that Professor Kim Rubenstein, Director of the Centre for International and Public law in the ANU College of Law will be the inaugural Convenor of the exciting new ANU Gender Institute.
ANU scholars make a submission to AHRC consultation
12 January 2011
ANU Gender Institute Members, Peter Bailey (Professor, ANU College of Law) and Fiona David (Visiting Fellow, ANU College of Law) made a submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s consultation on protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, sex and/or gender identity.
With leadership of the calibre of Prof. Kim Rubenstein, the Canberra Jewish Community is extremely well placed to work on breaking down barriers and working toward greater GLBT inclusiveness and acceptance.
With the announcement of Nina Bassat AM as the incoming President of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, and Dr Helen Light AM as the incoming Vice President, in addition to Michelle Coleman as the organisation’s Executive Officer, it will be interesting to see if having three women at the head of the JCCV will afford a more compassionate and human perspective to the organisation that calls itself “The Voice of Victorian Jewry”.
My dealings with Helen Light, former director of the Jewish Museum of Australia, were always positive and rewarding. Her support for GLBT people in the Jewish community was excellent, even to the point where she ran a series of my photographs of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in an exhibition at the museum.
I look forward to the months and years ahead under this renewed organisation and hope that with it’s new leadership team it has the foresight to unconditionally include GLBT people into its midst.
Over recent days I’ve found myself contemplating what the GLBT community is, or is supposed to be. I live in Melbourne, and base my experience of “GLBT community” from my personal experience of “it” here. It’s many things to many people. To some it’s everything. To others, it’s a “lifestyle” they’d rather not participate in. Yet for many of us, it’s an integral part of our lives, and something that for the most part enriches our experience of being not “straight”, in one way or another.
So why have I been pondering this? Something has happened that was for me so radical to my understanding of “GLBT community” that it made me begin to question if this amorphous notion of cohesiveness was simply something in my imagination, or if there was actually something going desperately wrong. What am I talking about? Specifically, it involves a well-known transgender activist signing her name, as a representative of Transgender Victoria, to a document that opens with the statement:
The reference group recognised that Jewish Halacha prohibits gay sexual behaviour and, according to orthodox rabbinic interpretation, lesbian sexual behaviour.
That a transgender activist had signed her name to a document making this statement troubles me deeply. This sends a message of approval, tacit or otherwise, that the aforementioned religious prohibitions against homosexual and bisexual behaviour cannot be challenged in any way. It shows that the transgender activist in question supports the notion that she is working under a framework of religious intolerance of homosexuality and bisexuality, and that in order to be accepted onto the reference group that this document was formed out of, there can be no dissent on this underlying principle.
The statement in question is misleading, divisive and dishonest whilst the “Jewish Halacha” being referred to is not qualified as being “Orthodox” and whilst there is no mention of a different and accepting interpretation of homosexuality and bisexuality by the Progressive and Conservative Jewish communities.
I sincerely believe the term “Sold Out” applies here. There is no plausible excuse that could convince me that a representative of an organisation whose mission statement begins with the words “To achieve justice and equity for all transgender people” could put their hand on their heart and say that acknowledging immutable religious intolerance of homosexuality and bisexuality doesn’t sit uncomfortably with them, in the slightest.
Sure, homosexuality and bisexuality are independent of transgender issues, but in the context of GLBT issues and the GLBT community they are inextricably linked. The bigotry that GLBT people experience is shared collectively. The suicide rates our youth suffer are shared collectively. The hurt and intolerance are shared collectively. Hurt one of us and you hurt all of us. Sit on a panel of people who accept an understanding that gay people are sinners and you are furthering the collective hate, bigotry and intolerance against all of us.
The actions of this renegade transgender activist who has allowed her principles to be steamrolled by a homophobic Jewish community council has left me staggered and in shock. If this is what GLBT has become then I want nothing to do with the T, and will have to make do with a diluted GLB community, a community that is less, a community that is not as rich and as fulfilling as I believed it previously was.
However, perhaps this is not what GLBT has become, and perhaps there is simply a person whose actions and beliefs are misguided and has not understood that by allowing herself to be blinkered by the hate and intolerance of some religious bigots, she has let the team down, and that she can at any stage simply say she’s not going to put up with the religious intolerance and the hateful guidelines of the reference group in question and return to the community that has supported her and the values she previously stood for.
Ultimately this is about reducing harm, saving lives and making better of a woefully bad situation. Suicide and mental health issues amongst trans and same-sex attracted people are very real. Any intolerance of us, of our relationships, of our community is unacceptable and there is no excuse for it. Supporting people who are intolerant of us is just as inexcusable.
Only time will tell whether this transgender activist will understand the harm she has done to her cause, and to ours collectively. It is possible to repair the damage, and I hope that it happens soon.
The report of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria’s (JCCV) investigation into issues of vilification and discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members of the Jewish community was released this week.
Perhaps the only revelation in the “ground-breaking” 16 page report is the statement:
Of concern was the data provided by Hatzolah that indicates approximately one person under the age of 25 and one person over that age within the Jewish community attempts self harm or suicide per month.
From my discussions with Rabbi Mendel Kastel of the Jewish House in Sydney he told me he believed there were around 12 completed suicides per year in the Sydney Jewish community, a community that is comparable in size to that in Melbourne. Both these scenarios are disturbing. To the best of my knowledge there has never been a public conversation in Melbourne’s Jewish community on the topic of suicide prevention.
Disappointingly, yet unsurprisingly, this report has made scant mention of the positive stance on homosexuality and GLBT issues that exist in the strong and vibrant Progressive Jewish community in Victoria. The report takes a biased Orthodox stance on homosexuality at the outset and portrays this as the only Jewish stance on homosexuality. This is entirely disingenuous of the JCCV and is a symptom of the deep and ugly rift that exists between the Orthodox and Progressive sectors of the Jewish community.
The Progressive sector has over recent years becoming increasingly more accepting and inclusive of same-sex couples and GLBT people to the point that they have effectively become the model citizen of how a religious community can remove all barriers and discrimination facing GLBT people. The apex of their acceptance to date came in May 2011 when the Progressive rabbinate called for full marriage equality under Australian law.
Yet the JCCV’s report has taken the Orthodox interpretation of Jewish Law (Halacha) and painted it as the only interpretation of Jewish Law:
The reference group recognised that Jewish Halacha prohibits gay sexual behaviour and, according to orthodox rabbinic interpretation, lesbian sexual behaviour.
The JCCV is not obliged to agree with the Orthodox stance on homosexuality. The JCCV is simply an umbrella organisation representing a diverse and for the most part disparate range of perspectives on Judaism, none of which are absolute. For the JCCV to take a single approach to this issue further strengthens my understanding that they are pandering to their majority Orthodox member-base. They are not representing the entire community that they claim to be the voice of, but only the sector that is strategic for its survival.
The report shows the GLBT Reference Group has no formal representation from the Progressive community. In their official capacity as members of the JCCV executive both John Searle and Anton Block staunchly support the Orthodox community and the Orthodox attitude toward homosexuality. It would have been helpful if this bias had been included in the report, yet it was conveniently overlooked.
The report claims the reference group had a member of Jewish Care and a member of the Australian Jewish Psychologists on it. I would like to know the professional expertise each of these two people brought to the table. My understanding is that the psychologist on the reference group, Dr Ruth Kweitel, has a professional background in dealing with people who have gambling problems. If this person is no longer on the reference group, I sincerely hope the JCCV managed to find a person who has a relevant background in GLBT issues. Despite that, why were these two professionals not named in the report? Are they concerned their professional credibility or reputation will be tarnished by being named in a report investigating GLBT issues? Perhaps they too will become victims of the religious intolerance that exists in the community.
Another claim of the report is that a “third party” introduced the GLBT members of the reference group to the JCCV. I was that third party, as the contact for Aleph Melbourne. Read my blog on how the JCCV engaged this “third party”. It doesn’t look very good for the JCCV when a GLBT support group operating for over 16 years is referred to as a “third party” in the report, and further is completely ignored in the report and by the reference group, without explanation.
Higher on my list of disappointments about the JCCV and their GLBT Reference Group are the GLBT people who sit on the reference group. To be told by the JCCV that they must function within the constraint that Jewish law forbids homosexual behavior is deeply offensive and arrogant and it disappoints me that they tolerated this intolerance. I am most disappointed that Transgender Victoria’s Sally Goldner, one of Australia’s most outspoken transgender and human rights activists, would even sit on a reference group that upholds the belief that all gay men and women are not free to live as equal human beings in a community, to live with the same dignity and acceptance as the rest of society. Her reticence to speak to me or go public about her involvement with the reference group is evidence of her conflict in being on the reference group. Sadly her integrity in caring for the welfare of all GLBT people has been brought into question as far as I am concerned.
Continuing the disappointment is the JCCV’s use of language to describe the people it is investigating:
- GLBT Jews within our community
- GLBT members of the Jewish community
- Jewish GLBT community members
- Jewish members of the GLBT community
- members of our GLBT community
- members of the GLBT community
- members of the GLBT Jewish community
- members of the Jewish GLBT community
The people this report should be talking about are all people in the Jewish community. The problems are not just faced by “GLBT” people. The problems are faced by those people who are not able to talk about their sexual orientation or their gender identity because they have not been empowered to do so, or who believe they are not allowed to do so. They are the invisible people, the ones who are told they must conform, be heterosexual and get married to a person of the opposite sex. They are the people who find themselves in loveless relationships, or in relationships that put them at conflict with their personal desires. They are the children, the siblings, the parents, friends and relatives of everyone in the Jewish community. They are not “members” of any section of the community. They are the entire Jewish community.
I am not pleased about many aspects of this report, however I am pleased this report has been written because if nothing else, it highlights the topic of suicide and mental health issues that religious intolerance of homosexuality inflicts on same-sex attracted people. It also puts GLBT issues on the radar and has created a starting place that can be built upon. I am glad for this as it’s better than nothing.
It was singularly because of my concern for the welfare of both the visible and the invisible GLBT people in the community that I spearheaded the 1999 application for JCCV membership of Aleph. Now some 12 years later my efforts are beginning to pay off and a momentum is building. The road ahead is not going to be without significant challenges, but as the stalwarts of intolerance are increasingly displaced by a younger and more enlightened generation, I am confident that change for the better is inevitable.
I can only hope that the imminent change in JCCV presidency ushers in someone who has the necessary leadership skills, impartiality, competency, professionalism and selflessness to steer the JCCV in a direction that puts the welfare of all the people in the community it represents ahead of their own career prospects and ahead of the sensitivities of its various constituent organisations.