All eyes are on Grapevine, Texas today as the Boy Scouts of America begins the annual meeting of its National Council. Earlier this year the Boy Scouts of America announced that it would postpone a reconsideration of its policy prohibiting gay scouts and scout leaders until the meeting this week (see the letter that Rabbi Saperstein sent to the BSA in response to that decision). Today the 1,400 person National Council, including representatives from across the country, will vote on whether or not to lift this ban and make the organization a more inclusive one.
The Community First Choice option expands access to home- and community-based care in your state, leading to better health outcomes for older adults and individuals with disabilities. We are taught in Pirkei Avot to not separate ourselves from our community, but too often people with disabilities are forced to do just that. Urge your governor and state legislators to implement this option, allowing increased matching funds for more services to more people.
Martin Luther King’s letter from a Birmingham Jail is one of the most powerful and stirring documents of the Civil Rights movement in America—in some ways more compelling than the now legendary “I Have a Dream” oration, which electrified the historic March on Washington 50 years ago.
Unlike the Dream speech, which was aimed at the conscience of all Americans, the jail speech was deeply personal and directed specifically at the leading clergymen in Birmingham who had called on King to abandon his public Birmingham campaign and content himself with the small, non-controversial steps that the clergymen were promoting behind the scenes.
While the new Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill takes many strides toward improving our immigration system, it also includes some significant steps backward. Our Jewish tradition not only teaches us, but commands us to treat the foreigner living in our country with the same laws as our own.
Last Thursday a bi-partisan group of senators and representatives reintroduced the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Current federal law contains no prohibition on discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in personnel decisions. A number of states have taken their own action to protect employees of all sexual orientation and gender identity, but today it remains legal to fire, fail to hire, demote or fail to promote an employee because of their sexual orientation in 29 states – it remains legal to do so based on an employee’s gender identity in 34. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act seeks to close that gap and extend the current laws that protect people because of their race, gender, ethnicity, national origin, religion and disability to include protections based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
We read in Proverbs, “Train up a child in the way the child should go, and even when the child is old, they will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). This idea speaks not only to the importance of education in the Jewish tradition, but to carrying out that education in a way that teaches children to be just and compassionate. Thus it should be of particular concern to us as a community when our youth are educated in unequal environments.
The Boys Scouts of America (BSA) has long been an example of a concerning environment. Despite the camaraderie, the character building and the training Boy Scout troops offer to America’s youth, they have long refused to admit gay and transgender people as scouts and scout leaders. The Reform Movement has consistently spoken out against this policy, urging all of our congregations to break their ties with the BSA in 2001.
However this unjust policy may soon be changing. The BSA announced today that they will be introducing a resolution at their board meeting in May to adopt a national non-discrimination policy against gay and transgender youth. The BSA has been considering changes for some time, but many had thought that they would leave it up to individual troops to decide on their own policy. This announcement of a national non-discrimination policy, which many LGBT rights group had advocated for, is a welcome change.
In a bizarre inconsistency the BSA announced that it would not change its policy regarding gay scout leaders and continue to bar the participation of LGBT adults. One might ask what message it sends to LGBT youth that they can participate in the organization as children but once they reach adulthood they are to be disqualified. Both aspects of this policy still have to be approved by the Boy Scouts national board at their meeting next month.
Of course the Boy Scouts are not the only place that LGBT youth face discrimination in America today. Sadly, too many children experience bullying and harassment in schools because of their real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. While current law allows students legal recourse to challenge discrimination in schools based on race, gender and religion, there is no national law that allows such action against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Yesterday Senator Al Franken (D-MN) and Reps. Ros Lehtinen (R-FL) and Polis (D-CO) introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act, which would fix this hole in the law. The Union for Reform Judaism has joined a number of religious, civil rights and education organizations in publically calling for this critical piece of legislation.
Perhaps between the BSA reevaluating its discriminatory policy and the consideration of legal protections for LGBT youth we can as a nation take an important step toward making sure our children are “trained up in the way they should go” toward justice and equality.
Image courtesy of scouting.org
Jewish tradition talks a lot about taxes and the importance of everyone contributing to the common good. Jewish tradition talks a lot about love, marriage and committed relationships. But how much does Jewish tradition talk about those two things together? Regardless of what tradition intended, these two facets of everyday life have become profoundly intertwined. For this reason Tax Day, April 15th, stands out as a day when our nation’s discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is acutely felt.
According to the Human Rights Campaign LGBT people – even those who are legally married – miss out on hundreds, if not thousands of dollars of federal tax benefits. The average LGBT family pays an extra $1,100 a year in taxes for health care coverage (that is when same-sex partners aren’t entirely denied health benefits and required to pay for them out of pocket). LGBT people who cannot legally claim their children as dependents frequently pay up to $1,000 extra on their taxes; many may miss out on the Earned Income Tax Credit costing them over 2,000 dollars.
Much of this inequality is the result of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex couples. This law was challenged in a case heard by the Supreme Court last month and will hopefully be struck down in the coming months. The Union for Reform Judaism, the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the Women of Reform Judaism (among a number of other Jewish and non-Jewish religious groups) all filed briefs in the case declaring the law unjust.
Love, marriage and equal recognition under the law are of course about much more than tax benefits. However days like yesterday, when the injustice of heterosexism can be expressed so clearly in dollars and federal paperwork, are important times to speak out for equality.
Image Courtesy of Thirstock
The Chasidic rabbi Yehudi haKodesh taught, “Good intentions alone not followed by action are without value. It is the actions which make the intentions so profound.”
Acceptance is an action: In its statement officially recognizing the name change to April as Autistic Acceptance Month (vs. Autistic Awareness Month), the Autistic Self Advocacy Network writes, “autism acceptance is an active process that requires both a shift in thinking and in action.” Too often, we satisfy ourselves during these themed months with reading a single blog and certifying ourselves “aware.” Yet to be worthwhile, this raised consciousness must be followed by an action. In the case of the month of April, this action is actively accepting people with autism into our communities.