My greatest vision has always been a world without discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. This hope brought me to discover my own potential for leadership, and this compulsion has enabled me to push myself further from my comfort zones and make the greatest impact than anything else.
In part it’s probably obvious why I care (indeed it would be a greater mystery if I didn’t care), but in the spirit of the week–my vision quest–it seems only fitting to dig deeper.
It seems every value I have can be traced back to Judaism: My love for education, my respect for all things (b’tzeleme Elohim, “in the image of God”), and my dedication to service (tikkun olam, “repairing the world”), but given what the Torah says, one might wonder how the issue of GLBT rights has become so much my fire and my fuel.
For me, it comes down to family and community.
Family has always been important to me, as a source of both friendship and support, a sacred bond elsewise unbreakable, and the laws in regards to family issues are currently lacking: Our community cannot be married in more states than most, let alone in more countries than most, and adoption rights lag even further behind that.
Outside the home, in our communities, it was only within the last three years that hate crimes legislation was passed protecting the GLBT community, but again, in more places than most, outing yourself is as dangerous as one-man Russian roulette with the pistol to your head. Bullying continues to be a problem in every age bracket, and not only of those in the GLBT community, but also those who are perceived to be and those in our families.
Suicide should never seem a way out.
And yet for far too many, it often is.
Not to mention the reign of oppressive laws makes GLBT people more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. Not only does this hurt us, our friends and families, and our communities, it hurts the entire system by increasing healthcare costs on the whole. In states where there are fewer laws discriminating against the GLBT community, these trends are reversed.
In our country especially, but truthfully worldwide, to support both our families and our communities, we must be able to work–but in most places, simply belonging to the GLBT community can be cause enough for termination. We all want to make a difference, so why should our sexuality and gender expression and identity get in the way?
And then there’s HIV. The worldwide epidemic of HIV/AIDS is simultaneously a world health issue and a gay issue, for few reasons other than historical context. Everyone–gay, straight, black, white, Latino–is at risk for HIV, and globally, the disease wreaks havoc in Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere. It sent chills along my spine when, during my service trip in March, on the drive into Punta Gorda, Belize, there was a large billboard, flanked by swaying trees and Caribbean waves, begging people to get tested for HIV.
It is a failure of our healthcare system and our cultural climate that HIV/AIDS remains a gay issue in the United States, and it’s disgusting when we recognize the infection rates of African Americans and Latinos are increasing–especially among straight people–but we stand silently as lives are torn away. The GLBT community has been phenomenal in making a difference in HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention and treatment, and we must continue this fight–but we must open our arms and bring in others, because it is not our fight alone anymore.
To achieve any of this, we must obviously change policies and procedures, but more so we must change hearts. This is not a war between the masses; it is a battle plane that falls upon us in pairs every time we reach out to someone who stands in oblivion or who stands against us, when we share our stories with these individuals in an effort to understand each other and bring all of us closer.
Only then can we ever hope to win true equality.