Being an ally is important and hard work—it requires dedication, mindfulness, and courage. Allies are absolutely crucial to Keshet and our work would not be possible without them. But what does it truly mean to be an ally? Today’s piece asks: Is it as simple as checking the box that reads “ally”? With Martin Luther King, Jr. Day around the corner, we are pushing our allies to think about how one defines allyship—and how that definition translates to action. How does being an ally allow us to be better advocates? What do you think?
The term “ally” was a very important part of my politics for a long time. Then, last March, in an epically important tweet last March, @FeministGriote wrote, “Being an ally is a process not an identity.” Say what you will about Twitter, but the truth is that it has the potential to change who and what we see and hear. (If you’re on Twitter and only following white, straight folks, please amend this.)
The term “ally” acknowledges social power, or privilege. It implies that the person who is applying the term to themselves also acknowledges privilege and the knowledge that claiming the ally label doesn’t actually mean anything if there isn’t action behind it. Allyship means realizing not only that language is imperfect, but that intention is nothing if it isn’t actualized, and actualizing it is tricky. (Read this piece by Jessie-Lane Metz at The Toast about, among many things, allyship when it goes very wrong.)
I’m realizing lately, more and more, that allyship is a minefield. We will fail sometimes. It’s easy to fail, because calling yourself an ally in a situation where you don’t have to do any work is one thing, but knowing when to step up and when to step back are other things entirely. The way racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia are structured is to ensure that we will fail sometimes. Allyship is one way that we can impact the status quo, but only if we accept that falling down is part of the process. And since failure is inevitable, because this is hard and imprecise work, we have to figure out to bounce back when we make a mistake. We live in this world where the dichotomy of perfection v. failure dominates. (Another reading assignment: The Queer Art of Failure by Judith Halberstam.) The truth, we know, is that there is a lot of room in between the two.
Here are some ways to ally like you mean it:
1. Repeat the following sentence to yourself over and over again: This is not about you. Calling yourself an ally is not a way, or should not be a way, to make yourself feel better. It’s not cute, it doesn’t (or rather, it shouldn’t) get you extra bonus points at life. It’s the way we should all be behaving. Do everything you have to do to remember that this is about people’s real lives.
2. Take up less space. A lot less.
Earlier this year, I wrote a piece about street harassment and racism, in which I talked about my own narrative of race, and the beliefs that I (and all white people) possess on some level about people of color. The thing is, that piece was like therapy for me, which is not the point. It’s not that processing my own racism isn’t important —it is —but allyship is the work of creating space, which means stepping aside to make room for other voices that are not yours. When someone with less privilege than you tells that you made a mistake, do your very best to listen and hear.
It should go without saying that all of these things apply to being an ally in Jewish spaces to queer folks, to Jews of color, to women, etc. This work is scary, especially when we do it in our own communities, which means it’s the place where it’s most needed. It’s political. Depending on how you see it, it’s religious. It’s very, very personal. And even though it’s hard, don’t stop. Please don’t stop.
Moved by this post? Join the conversation through MyJewishLearning’s weekly blogs newsletter.
2013 is one for the history books. The year has seen unprecedented legal victories for marriage equality. Here’s our breakdown of a year in the fight for marriage equality—mixed with some wisdom and reactions from the Jewish community.
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) & Proposition 8
On June 26th, Edith Windsor brought down DOMA. Although the verdict didn’t grant marriage equality nationwide, it did serve to end the federal government’s discrimination against legally married LGBT couples. Ariel, a rabbinical student, stood on the steps of the Supreme Court that morning: “A group stood in an interfaith prayer circle. Before the verdict was announced, I led the group in prayer—at that moment I felt what Abraham Joshua Heschel meant when he said that marching for civil rights was praying with his feet.”
The ruling on DOMA was accompanied with another victory—Proposition 8 was overturned.
“Having a wedding had never been something I thought I would have. As my partner and I sat on the couch crying, I realized that we had a lot of work ahead of us,” shared Meryl, a Jew living in California. “That weekend in San Francisco we saw lines outside City Hall for same-sex wedding ceremonies, but we knew we wanted to do something with our friends and family. In many ways we live our married life as we set up our marriage ceremony, a mix of American/Paraguayan, Jewish/Christian, English/Spanish/Hebrew, and always with compromise, learning, and wonder.”
On January 3, legislation to legalize same-sex marriage was introduced in Rhode Island; it passed on May 2nd.
The Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island endorsed the legislation, declaring that “the right of civil marriage should be available to all Rhode Islanders.” In their endorsement, the diverse group of rabbi’s wrote, “lessons from Jewish history provide us with a mandate to work for civil rights.”
A bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Delaware passed on May 7th, making it the 12th state to enact marriage equality. The legislation eliminated civil unions, converting any unions to fully recognized marriages.
Upon hearing the news, National Coalition of Jewish Women released the following statement, “NCJW salutes state lawmakers and the governor for this step forward for civil rights for the people of Delaware.”
In 2012, over half of the voters in Minnesota rejected a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. The Legislature passed a same-sex marriage bill in May, which went into effect on August 1st.
Minnesotan Rafi shared his views on his own upcoming nuptials: “We were anxious to have a wedding in a state where members of our own family wouldn’t be able to do the same. We were relieved when Minnesota became the first Midwestern state to legalize same-sex marriage through legislation, led by Jewish State Representative Simon—with a host of Jewish groups proudly helping hoist the banner of equality.”
As a result of the court case Garden State Equality v. Dow, New Jersey legally recognized same-sex marriage in October. Marsha Shapiro and Louise Walpin were among the first in the state to tie the knot. Just after midnight on October 21st the two wrapped themselves in prayer shawls and broke the glass, telling Haaretz, “When we broke the glass, we were destroying inequality and discrimination in New Jersey.”
As the year marched on, Hawaii became the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriages, cementing it’s place as honeymoon capital of the U.S.
Just before Thanksgiving, the Land of Lincoln gave us something to be thankful for: same-sex marriage was signed into law.
An open letter from Illinois clergy and faith leaders reads, “We dedicate our lives to fostering faith and compassion, and we work daily to promote justice and fairness for all. Standing on these beliefs, we think that it is morally just to grant equal opportunities and responsibilities to loving, committed same-sex couples.”
On December 19th, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in New Mexico.
Following on the heels of New Mexico, Utah legalized same-sex marriage on December 20th. Sarah, a rabbinical student in Boston, summed up her feelings for her home state, “Oh my heck, Utah! What fantastic, amazing, beautiful news! Congrats to my home state for defying my expectation that it would be the last one to get on the equality boat!”
We’ll take it as a good omen that as we say good bye to 2013, 18 states have the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. L’chaim!
There are a lot of adjectives that I can use to describe my identity, some more obvious than others. It probably wouldn’t surprise you that I, a Jewish professional, would put “Jewish” at the top of the list. It also probably wouldn’t surprise you that I, a Keshet professional, would put “ally” and “activist” right up there with it. It may surprise you that I’d also put “TV aficionado” right alongside those other qualifiers, but it’s true—there’s very little that I enjoy quite as much as a quiet evening with the glow of my television.
Perhaps my favorite show of all times is the now classic reality TV show, Survivor. I started watching Survivor when a co-worker of mine from my Hillel days made a great sell: she convinced me that Survivor wasn’t just mindless entertainment, but a whole sociological experiment brought into my living room each week. I started watching timidly, but it soon became a weekly ritual for the two of us, something we folded into our own non-traditional Shabbat celebration. Now, seven years later, we still queue up our DVRs in tandem as we discuss the ins and outs of this week’s strategy.
In many ways, the famous sentiment “the revolution will not be televised” doesn’t apply in my world. This isn’t to belittle the incredibly important work that goes on behind the scenes and in uncelebrated ways—but for me, when the revolution makes it onto the small screen, I know it’s really here. This week marked the finale of Season 27, as well as the first time the show featured a gay couple. (Although, this season is not the first time Survivor featured a gay contestant.) Survivor has also boasted two Jewish winners—one, Ethan Zohn, even famously passed on eating pork during a reward.
This season we saw the gay couple of Colton and Caleb throw down on Survivor—and while Caleb flourished, filling the role of a sympathetic character and potential role model, we also saw Colton act as a disagreeable villain. Both contestants were real, their relationship and gay identity secondary to their role within the game. There is something incredibly meaningful about seeing the LGBT community reflected on Survivor, where instead of filling a pigeon-holed role as the token gay couple, Colton and Caleb were simply another layer of the cast of players.
Sure, there are a lot of pressing and important things going on in the world—many more worthy of the time and energy I’ve spent arguing about Survivor at the Shabbat dinner table. But when it comes down to it, seeing representations of our community—whether in the form of gay contestants on a reality show or Jewish individuals on prime time TV—is something to celebrate.
Check out today’s powerful post on The Canteen from Sheira Director-Nowack, who reflects on how a Keshet training on LGBT inclusion opened her eyes. Our next training for Jewish leaders is February 2nd in the Bay Area.
I am not quite sure when I first started to understand the notion of homosexuality. When Billie Jean King was forced to come out, I distinctly recall asking my parents about it and them telling me that she was “with another woman” and that woman was telling her secrets to the world. I remember having this strong reaction about how unfair it was for someone to tell another’s secrets. As I grew older, most of what I learned about LGBT issues was tied to the AIDS crisis of the 80s. And then, as time passed, it became less of a “thing” I knew about and more of a reality in my life. There was a cousin, who was gay, and died from AIDS. A friend from high school who came out and we all accepted. A close girlfriend from Jewish sleepaway camp who came to me struggling with coming out and wanted my acceptance. In the course of 25 years, there has been a transformation from when being gay was this abstract thing in my life to being just a way of life. I am pretty sure that the planet around me has grown with me in this area too. I mean: same-sex marriage 25 years ago? People would never have even understood why it was a civil rights situation.
I am a pretty liberal person, probably more liberal than most. So it is not a real shock that much of this is totally a “non-issue” for me. However, I am always shocked by how much I have to learn and how completely encompassed I am in my own little world. When that friend from sleepaway camp came out to me when I was 22, I was surprised. She wanted my approval so badly and I was not sure why. And I didn’t know how to explain that my surprise was just surprise, not disappointment or judgment. It took us a few weeks and then everything was back to normal between us. Today I am still friends with her as well as and her partner who she has been living very happily with for over ten years.
When I got my Masters in Social Work and Jewish Communal Service, there were plenty of LGBT people there and also plenty of people who thought this was wrong. I was shocked by the ignorance of those who thought this was a moral decision. I considered myself an advocate of anyone who needed me to speak up. That being said, I was still pretty separate from the LGBT world.
In 2006 I was Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. Before you get too impressed, I’ll remind you: in 2006 anyone who picked up a copy of Time Magazine was voted person of the year. With the rise of Wikipedia, YouTube, and other various user-generated content, Time made the bold statement that everyone deserved the title. (Still, I’ve been known to impress strangers when I drop the accolade into casual conversation.)
This year’s Person of the Year is Pope Francis, who was elected head of the Catholic Church earlier in 2013. Although there’s much to be said about Pope Francis’ view on the LGBTQ community and his social justice work, the real story lies with the woman declared runner-up for the title: Edith Windsor.
Edie Windsor embodies sass; the 84-year-old widow was at the forefront of the legal battle that toppled DOMA earlier this year. Edith and I have a lot in common—after all, we both share (or almost shared) the prestigious Time magazine title. More importantly, we’re both individuals—and, how does that saying go? “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has?” Margaret Mead had a point—albeit one that has been turned into a bit of a cliché.
Edie was a fighter and a leader her whole life, she was taught at an early age “that if a boy called her ‘a dirty Jew,’ she should pull his hair and run home.” Hearing tales of her relationship with Thea Spyer conjures themes and images from the most romantic of blockbuster movies, but what sets her story apart was (and is) her bravery as an individual. After Thea passed away in 2009, Edie was handed an estate-tax bill of $364,053—a tax that legally recognized spouses are exempt from. She filed with the IRS. When the claim was denied, she took action. She fought back through injustice, and she has paved the equality path for queer couples in America.
Edie Windsor represents the power of the individual—a Jewish lesbian born to immigrant parents in Philadelphia who refused to back down. She might not be Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, but she sure is mine.
The Jewish world is full of debates. Get the latest in MyJewishLearning’s weekly blogs newsletter.
I am a very, very strong supporter of equal rights and the freedom of men and women to marry whomever they love.
-Duncan McAlpine Sennett
Mazel Tov, Duncan and the folks at Congregation Beth Israel for nurturing and supporting him.
You have to admit, this is a wonderfully queer holiday. And a once in a lifetime occurrence. (You’ll have to wait another 77,798 years for it to occur again.)
In all seriousness, we are grateful to each and every reader of this blog for engaging, exploring, and yes, even disagreeing with us. And our heartfelt thanks today and every day for everyone who helps create a fully inclusive Jewish community.
Wishing you and yours a very happy Thanksgivukkah!
Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), memorializes trans individuals who have died because of anti-transgender discrimination and victimization. It occurs annually on and around November 20 each year. We invite you to explore, learn, and participate with your Jewish community this year. Below are some resources to get you started. And if you missed our earlier post by Rafi Daugherty, on why marking this day is important, you can find it here.
Laura Thor spoke these words at Transgender Day of Remembrance last year, at a service held at Jefferson Unitarian Church, Golden, Colorado. Laura will be speaking again this year at this event-we invite you to join us.
How many of you have seen the YouTube video of Lana Wachowski’s acceptance speech fat the 2012 Human Rights Campaign gala ?
Lana has grabbed the brass ring, found the Holy Grail, or, as she says, won the Lotto. In her speech to the HRC she speaks of being loved in her entirety, of finally being known for who she is… for being seen.
Four times she returns to the power of being seen or failing to be seen and recognized for who she is.
She speaks of the universal, essential need for each person to be seen, not only in order to be known and loved, but in order to exist at all.
To find our place and to fit in, we have to be recognized as belonging. We will never trust we are lovable unless we feel known in our entirety, and that can’t happen unless we show ourselves, make ourselves visible. Continue reading
When I was growing up, as a little girl in the Orthodox Jewish community, I would stare longingly over the mechitza feeling betrayed by G-d for giving me a body that didn’t feel congruent with my soul. I never imagined that one day I would feel right in my body, accepted in my community, and able to walk freely in the world as a Jewish man.
Observed annually on November 20th, Transgender Day of Remembrance was established as a day set aside for remembering the lives of those gender non-conforming individuals who were viciously murdered for being themselves. It is sometimes hard for us to make the leap between thinking about people being murdered and what that has to do with our community or with us. We think, “No one I know would ever murder a transgender person!” While that may be true, I challenge us all to ask ourselves:
What else can we take away from this day?
Most transgender people spend years hiding and fearing “coming out” because they do not have a community where they know they will be accepted. Many transgender people, like myself, have used drugs and alcohol to numb the pain of being “different,” and even contemplate suicide to escape from making the heart-wrenching choice between family and being true to themselves. Sometimes I wonder how my life would have been different if I could have known as a child that I could be myself and also be a part of my community. . . .
I hope this day inspires us to ask ourselves:
*How can we make our community the type of community where a transgender child or adult will feel that they can safely express who they are and not only will we not shun them, we will love and embrace them, and encourage them down their chosen path?
*How can we use this day to bring an end to the silence around gender expression that might be allowing bullying in our Hebrew schools?
*How might we bring awareness to the issue of bathroom safety for gender non-conforming individuals in our institutions?
*How can we widen the arms of our communities’ embrace so that it can enfold the most stigmatized and ostracized individuals and bring them closer to G-d, to Judaism, and to themselves?
I ask you to take a moment to think about how you might use this day to find a way to make a difference. Next week we’ll share resources to help the Jewish community mark this day.