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Orlando: What to say when you don’t know what to say

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By Neal Schindler

I’ve had a hard time writing about Orlando. It’s not because I don’t have thoughts or feelings about it. I certainly do. In the days following the attack, I’ve appreciated many people’s statements on Facebook and FāVS. Adrian Adams Pauw’s column “LGBTQ people are vital members of every faith and system of life” stands out for me, and particularly this paragraph:

The shooter was Muslim. I won’t say he wasn’t, because the practice of takfir (excommunication) is also a source of violence, especially for LGBTQ Muslims. Takfir is what Daesh terrorists do: declare Muslims they don’t like to be non-Muslim, so they can justify dehumanizing and murdering them. If this murderer believed himself to be Muslim, so be it. But he was not my brother. My brothers, sisters, and siblings are the ones who were gunned down last night. The ones who now fight for their lives. The ones who must helplessly watch their friends and loved ones suffer. The ones in mourning. I am mourning with you.

When they write publicly about Orlando, my friends who are Muslim and/or LGBTQ make themselves vulnerable in a way I can’t really understand as a white, cisgender, heterosexual man. Yes, I’m Jewish, but as such I feel much less vulnerable to violence than I believe many other minority groups are. As a friend said, “Up to this point I’ve not been sure what I could really add to the discussion.” I’m still not sure I have much to add. But I knew I was starting to feel a little too comfortable just reading, watching, and waiting. I knew I shouldn’t let myself continue that indefinitely out of fear that I would say something useless. Everyone who cares about the LGBTQ community has to speak up at times like this, even when they don’t know what to say.

Part of being a good ally is letting members of oppressed groups speak first. Another part is not remaining silent in the face of injustice, violence, and hate. I mentioned in a recent article that I am inspired by the efforts of HIAS, a Jewish organization, to aid in the resettlement of Muslim refugees in the U.S. Judaism calls on me and every other Jew on earth to fight for justice, not just for ourselves but for anyone who suffers and is oppressed, and not just because we have experienced persecution for millennia but because no one deserves to be persecuted. Tikkun olam is the concept that Jews must work to heal the world, and this week the world feels especially broken. LGBTQ rights, including the fundamental right to live in peace, are not some other community’s problem. As Adrian points out in her column: “We are not separate communities. LGBTQ people are vital members of every faith and system of life.” Amen to that.

As a people who have undergone genocide, we Jews don’t get to turn a blind eye to hate crimes of any kind. “Never forget” is the phrase most often used to signify Holocaust remembrance, which is central to modern Judaism. But we must also never forget the thousands of LGBTQ people who were jailed by the Nazi regime or died in its concentration camps, as well as more recent cases of hateful brutality, such as those of Brandon Teena, Mathew Shepard, Goddess Diamond, and a list of other names and lives so long that sometimes hope is hard to come by.

As a friend put it, being an ally means “yelling in support,” but also screwing up, apologizing, learning, and trying to do it better next time. Being an ally means humility, so sometimes even writing about it feels wrong. Still: I know the battle for LGBTQ equality — for liberation from oppression — is far from finished. I’m not sure what my part to play in it will be from now on, but I’m determined to find a place where I can be helpful. And that starts with listening actively to LGBTQ people and then refusing to be silent in the face of homophobic, transphobic, and otherwise hate-fueled and -filled elements of society. Every day, that work begins anew.

Neal Schindler
Neal Schindler
A native of Detroit, Neal Schindler has lived in the Pacific Northwest since 2002. He has held staff positions at Seattle Weekly and The Seattle Times and was a freelance writer for Jew-ish.com from 2007 to 2011. Schindler was raised in a Reconstructionist Jewish congregation and is now a member of Spokane's Reform congregation, Emanu-El. He is the director of Spokane Area Jewish Family Services. His interests include movies, Scrabble, and indie rock. He lives with his wife, son, and two cats in West Central Spokane.

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Jan Shannon
7 years ago

Neal, thank you. You are a wonderful LGBTQ ally, and a good man. Blessings be upon you.

Dri Pauw
Dri Pauw
7 years ago

Neal, I’m honored to be included in your beautiful reflection. Our liberation theologies have much in common! Shalom to you and yours.

Bardsbrood
Bardsbrood
7 years ago

Thank you, Neal! One always feels nurtured by your posts.

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