Personally I think this is childish and unwarranted.
No organisation or community has EVER gone from “homophobic” to “acceptance” over night. There has always been some with an organisation who harbour their old prejudices.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t benefit in doing SOMEthing rather than NOthing…
All this cartoon tells me is that the author has been so personally hurt by some in the JCCV that his pain is too great to see any glimmer of good in their action towards inclusive behaviour.
Perhaps my message was too subtle for Corey, so I will elaborate (although I hoped this would have been clear from the Aleph Melbourne media release issued on March 28).
The JCCV has put their name to the No To Homophobia campaign. Any ordinary person would understand this to mean that they say no to homophobia. Not just some homophobia, but all homophobia. By comparison, take the issue of anti-Semitism, which is an area of concern for the JCCV. They have the Anti-Defamation Commission to look after that for them, and through the ADC they attempt to stamp out all anti-Semitism.
Now from my humble perspective, when I read that the JCCV has signed up to No To Homophobia, I trust they are actually taking this initiative seriously and with no less concern for homophobia than they have for anti-Semitism.
But here’s the thing. There’s a big fat elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about, and that’s the biblical prohibition on homosexuality, Leviticus 18:22, that the Orthodox section of the Jewish community feel compelled to uphold. It’s about as black and white as it gets: Homosexual sex is forbidden. Now if that’s not homophobic, then nothing is. Incidentally, the Orthodox community seem to have no qualms about not stoning to death those who commit homosexual activity, as required under Leviticus 20:13, although maybe that’s because civilised societies don’t stone people to death any more (much like civilised societies aren’t actually intolerant of homosexuality any more).
I mention Leviticus 18:22 because in 2013 the Orthodox leadership in the community are steadfastly intolerant of homosexuality, and further, are intolerant of equal recognition of homosexual relationships under the law and under the religion. You may wonder why this is an issue here. Let me tell you. If the JCCV is going to call for no homophobia in the Jewish community, then this means it is calling for no intolerance of homosexual people, no intolerance of homosexual relationships and no intolerance of homosexuality.
And this is an impossible situation for the JCCV because the Orthodox member organisations of the JCCV are not suddenly going to start embracing homosexuality just because the JCCV has signed up to No To Homophobia. And further, the JCCV will willingly continue to accept the not-insubstantial membership dues (and any other financial contributions) of these organisations that are currently intolerant of homosexuality. It should be noted that the spiritual leaders of many of these organisations belong to the Rabbinical Council of Victoria, itself unaffiliated with the JCCV, that made a submission to the Australian Senate calling for the homophobic discrimination in the Marriage Act to remain in place.
There is no amount of “good-will” that the JCCV can dish up that will make any thinking person believe it is sincere about saying no to homophobia while it actively nurtures organisations that themselves are actively intolerant of homosexuality in the Jewish and wider community. It’s that simple.
Lastly, for those who say “Saying no to homophobia is a start, even if it’s just saying it” (and no, that doesn’t cut the “we don’t tolerate some anti-Semitism” test), how about the JCCV actually does something practical, like any one of these:
- Recommend all Jewish schools join up to Safe Schools Coalition Victoria
- Recommend the government doesn’t exempt religious organisations from discriminating against LGBTI people in Anti-Discrimination legislation
- Call for the removal of discrimination in the Marriage Act that prevents same-sex attracted and intersex members of the Jewish community from getting married
- Rebuking members of the community, lay and spiritual, who make public homophobic claims, such as that of Rabbi Shimon Cowen, Rabbi Chaim Ingram, Dr Miriam Grossman, Robert Weil, Ilana Leeds, and the “AJN Watch” blog. Their standard yelp “Don’t give them oxygen” simply doesn’t cut it, considering just how strongly they rebuke purveyors of anti-Semitism
- Establish a properly funded rigorous investigation into the rate of self-harm and suicide from members of the Jewish community who are struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity
- Extend an invitation to LGBTI Jewish organisations to become members of the JCCV, as an act of goodwill (especially considering they rejected the last application from a long-established LGBTI Jewish organisation)
- Start praising the stellar work of the Progressive and Conservative Jewish communities.
I hope that this explains why the JCCV must prove that it is actually engaging with the community to break down homophobia and not just taking the lazy way out (in order to tick the “We’re LGBTI inclusive” box on government grant applications, to ensure its funding sources don’t dry up). Until then it will remain nothing more than a three-ring circus replete with puppet and clown show.
I was driving along Balaclava Road after lunch today and a billboard outside Leibler Yavneh College caught my attention, no doubt a testament to its effectiveness.
In particular I was drawn to the stylised rainbow, the word “keshet” (Hebrew for rainbow), the message underneath (“Show your true colours”) and that it was affixed to the fence of Yavneh College.
My initial reaction to seeing the billboard was that it was for the Keshet Australia program but I quickly realised that this wasn’t the case. The reason I thought it might have been for Keshet Australia is because they are “developing an array of engaging education campaigns and initiatives for, and in partnership with, Jewish communal organisations; especially schools, youth movements, aged care-homes and synagogues”.
Optimistically, it would be ideal if Keshet Australia was associated with Bnei Akiva Australia. The kids who participate in those programs definitely need the education about sexual orientation and gender identity that Keshet Australia intends to empower leaders in Jewish organisations with.
A collaboration between Bnei Akiva, Keshet Australia and Yavneh College would help safeguard the welfare of the most important assets in the Jewish community, the children. Intolerance of homosexuality contributes to poor mental health outcomes, self-harm and suicide. Ignoring the reality of this situation compounds the problem, only to the community’s detriment.
I actually had a quick look to see if there was any material online that Bnei Akiva had made available to help understand sexual orientation or homosexuality. I only found one page on Bnei Akiva UK’s web-site discussing “controversial topics” that had a rough scan of some questions about homosexuality from a religious perspective. Sadly, there were no answers, just questions.
I urge the educators in the Jewish community to work with organisations like Keshet Australia and Safe Schools Coalition Victoria and invest in the health and happiness of community that really does show its true colours.
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.
From: Michael Barnett <email@example.com>
Date: 1 October 2010 16:29
Subject: JCCV and Mental Health Week 2010
To: John Searle <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Mental Health Week in Victoria runs from October 10 to 16 this year(1). Last year the JCCV published a media release(2) in time for Mental Health Week and included alarming figures on the extent mental health problems have on same-sex attracted youth.
There has been a spate of youth suicides in the USA that have come to recent public attention(3). This news has been deeply disturbing.
I would be keen to know what actions the JCCV is taking to help prevent tragic outcomes such as these in the Melbourne Jewish community. The JCCV formed a GLBT Reference Group in December 2009 (4) and has been briefed by a qualified academic on the facts surrounding intolerance of homosexuality. This problem exists in all societies where any intolerance of homosexuality prevails.
I would be keen to discuss this matter at your earliest convenience.