Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ask and They Shall Tell

Just the other week I was called a “militant gay,” now the gay military members can be open and honest.
A few weeks ago I wrote a short piece, based on an article I read on CNN, regarding the then only possible overturn of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Shortly thereafter, an initial attempt to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell failed in the senate. A few hours ago, as I turned on my computer after Shabbos, I thrilled to see that earlier today 63 members of the senate voted to repeal DADT. For my international audience, the vote required a minimum of 51 votes to pass. The fact that it received 63 votes means that the Democrats of the Senate were joined by 9 non-Democrats (8 Republicans and Joe Lieberman, an independent).    What, if anything, does this mean for gay Jews? For this analysis, I return to the article I mentioned in my earlier post.
Prior to the legislative decision to move forward with a repeal of DADT, the Pentagon spent considerable time and effort conducting a survey of US troops to gauge their attitudes on the possible open inclusion of homosexual servicemen and women. The results suggested that there would be little disruption. There are those that draw analogies to the 1993 lifting of a similar ban in Israel. "[I]t came and went, and that was it, nothing more was heard about it" (see original CNN article).I suspect in that as the US government enforces the repeal, there will be some minor incidents across the various sectors of the military. The current situation within Orthodox Jewry is one of uncertainty. Whenever I encounter a new Jew, I, unfortunately, assume they will not be open to my sexuality. Obviously, this is not always the case. Certainly, there are many members of the larger Orthodox community who welcome me with open arms and see my sexuality as a non-issue. Since the Statement of Principles was published this past summer (see link on right of page), there has been at the very least a tolerant attitude expressed by various rabbis, community leaders and members of the mental health profession. It is time that a survey be conducted within sectors of Orthodox Jewry to determine the attitudes, fears and concerns of the everyday Jew. A daunting, and perhaps near impossible, project, I am not naive enough to write this off as a simple undertaking. However, if gay Jews intend to make any progress within our society, it is important that we clarify the barriers to our success.  Are community members primarily concerned with the Halachic implications that acceptance might produce? Are there other socio-cultural attitudes affecting our struggle?
Throughout the entire process of the DADT repeal, military personnel and proponents of the repeal have emphasized that there will be no alterations to any of the substantive rules of military conduct. A soldier is a soldier and the expectations that go along with that role will not in any way be undermined by this legislation. As an Orthodox Jew, I cannot stress enough that I do not expect, request or demand any changes to Halacha. The Torah is divine and dictates the daily acts of a Jew in the same way that the military rules dictate that of the soldier. Acceptance of gay Jews should not and cannot be equated with redrafting Halacha. I will soon be dedicating a post to this topic and thus will cut myself short at this point.
No change as monumental as the repeal will succeed without a strong leadership. As a gay Jew, I believe that our movement needs a champion. A single influential Jewish leader that is willing to preach acceptance. We need a Moshe Rabbeinu to split the Sea of Intolerance and Closed-mindedness.
Of course, in both the military and the frum community, there is an ever present discussion regarding unit/community cohesion as well as privacy/concerns over the presence of same-sex attraction. Especially in Modern-orthodoxy, community members often interact with non-Jewish homosexuals in the workplace, on the street etc. It is my hope and belief that they treat these individuals as they would a heterosexual. In my own experiences, after I’ve come-out to an Orthodox Jew, there is an initial period of questions, curiosity and, at times, discomfort, but this is quickly overshadowed by the realization that I remain unchanged and that there are many other facts to my identity. With time and education, any concerns or discomforts that are felt within the Orthodox community can be worked through. In fact, acceptance of gay individuals will likely open the door for some individuals to step up towards positions of community leadership once they feel accepted for the entirety of who they are. This will not occur until the issue is openly discussed (and we are getting there). The same understanding that will seal any initial fissures in society will also deal with the issue of discomfort due to proximity of openly gay individuals in regards to sexual attraction. As one gets to know gay Jews they will understand that, contrary to some beliefs, we are not sexual predators constantly scoping out our side of the Mechitza or Bais Medrish. We, like anyone else, have attractions, but know when and where acting on these feelings are appropriate.

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