When Seattle’s LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Commission canceled a scheduled reception with six Israeli LGBT activists, the strength of a vital relationship was challenged. Commissioners decided, after being petitioned by a small group of vocal anti-Israel activists, that rather than pursue dialogue, it was wiser to cancel the event.
The decision was wrong, hasty, and based on false information. It also demonstrated a lack of leadership in a moment that demanded courage. While the commission does not speak for the LGBT community, its decision reflected negatively on the strong partnership that has developed between the Jewish and LGBT communities. Since the initial decision was made, the commission has apologized.
This was an important first step, but it cannot be the end of the conversation.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle was proud to be a part of the response effort and we didn’t hesitate to reach out to the leaders and opinion makers within the LGBT community. We welcomed the chance to host a meeting of LGBT, Jewish, and pro-Israel leaders at our offices, including StandWithUs, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, and the Greater Seattle Business Association, the local LGBT chamber of commerce. The Jewish Federation also used an opportunity to testify before the Public Safety, Civil Rights and Technology Committee of the Seattle City Council to promote a spirit of reconciliation and deeper understanding.
Most importantly, we were truly moved by the support from our friends and allies in the LGBT community as the controversy with the LGBT commission developed. As State Senator Ed Murray said in his statement, “I am disappointed in the Seattle LGBT Commission’s actions. It’s especially disappointing given the fact that important parts of the Jewish community in our state, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, have stood side by side with the LGBT community in our fight for justice.”
The struggle for LGBT rights is global in nature. It is a struggle being waged right here in Washington State and half a world away in the Middle East and Israel. It is a struggle that many people in our Jewish community feel personally because they have gay and lesbian family members or friends. Others are drawn to the cause because opposing oppression, fighting stereotypes, and combating hate are intrinsic to the Jewish experience.
As we stand side-by-side with our Jewish community partners in this effort, and our partners in the LGBT community, we must use this moment to promote broader understanding of our Jewish community values and issues within the LGBT community. We also must use this moment to help a crucial and important ally understand how language, which misrepresents Israelis and casts them in a negative light, can result in violence, anger, and hate against Jewish people here in Seattle. Though the conversations will be difficult, this should not dissuade us from tackling the difficult tasks at hand.
In the end, we must remember that regardless of who we are, what organization we represent, or our respective homeland, we have a common goal: advancement of civil rights, everywhere.