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Love in the Time of DeSantis: The War on LGBTQIA Rights


"Life is a narrow bridge. The important thing is not to be afraid." ~ Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

LGBTQIA rights

In the past several weeks, Gidon and I have received dozens of terrified messages on our social media accounts and emails from young people in the LGBTQIA community in the United States. These messages can be described in one word: scared. Young people are writing to Gidon, asking him if they should flee their homes and find safety in another state or country.


Their fear and desperation are palpable. The number of anti-LGBTQIA bills being passed in the USA is genuinely terrifying. It seems that almost every day, some new legislation is introduced or speech made that dehumanizes members of the LGBTQIA community. This is happening in tandem with increasing incidents of antisemitism and antisemitic rhetoric parading in the light of day.



Elon Musk's antisemitism is showing.


For Gidon, it's complicated. We sat down and had a conversation about it:


Julie:

A lot of people are saying that the LGBTQIA community is overreacting and that they should not compare this current political climate to the laws passed by the Nazis, that they're being overly dramatic. What do you think about that?


Gidon

I think that's bullshit. I don't think they are overreacting. They are reacting. If more people, many more German people at the time, had reacted, maybe a few million people would not have suffered and died.

Julie

Many people have written or commented to you and asked whether they should stay put or whether you think they should flee to another state. What do you think of that?


Gidon

That's not an easy question to answer. Because it depends on many factors in my opinion. Can they stay and feel fairly safe where they are with family and friends, and community? If that is not so, and if they find themselves faced with actual danger physically and maybe in many other ways, then perhaps it is wiser to get the hell out and go to where they can find a safer and more secure environment, someplace where they can live equal, free, and worthwhile lives.


Julie

I hear what you are saying about physical danger, but for example, in 1938 in Prague, where your family lived, there were laws passed that Jews could not work or go to a restaurant, and many other incremental restrictions. But they were not in physical danger at that point. Should they have left? Should that have been the sign that they should go? Because I think that's where the parallel is. Where is the line, you know?


Gidon

Look, it's clear that there are similarities. But I think the Germans were much more determined, organized, and systematic in their pursuit of annihilating the Jewish people. Kristallnacht happened in 1938, don't forget that. That was a clear sign that Jews were not safe and that violence was coming.


Julie

You're right to point out Kristallnacht, but still, I keep wondering where the line will be--


Gidon

--and it wouldn't be the same thing anyway. That makes it hard to compare, so I think it's not a good idea to compare too closely because it leads us down all sorts of paths when what we need to be doing is taking action steps.

Julie

Back to the idea of people in the LGBTQIA community thinking about relocating, one thing that strikes me is that because the United States is made up of many states, you could say, "Okay, I'm going to leave Florida and move to California or a more liberal state. Jews didn't have that option, and I think that's a key difference.


Gidon

That's true, it was a different situation for the Jews in Europe who had nowhere to go because they couldn't emigrate or get visas. But why should a person have to leave behind their community or family, or job? Doesn't someone living in one of these states have the same human rights as someone in a different state? Isn't it the "United States?"

Julie

During the time of Hitler's rise to power, the Nazi Party had a very clear ideology of Aryan purity and Germany's "greatness" that needed to be restored. And that ideology was exclusionary, so a German Jew, a member of the Roma community, or anybody who was mixed race or mentally or physically disabled did not fit this standard they had for who is the right kind of German. I see a lot of evidence that in America, there's an idea being put forth by the far right that the right kind of American should be white, straight, and Christian. It's a similar kind of "purity" thinking.

Gidon

Probably there are right-wing Americans who sign onto this ideology of exclusiveness, but it started someplace. It has to be stopped. Now. Those politicians promoting this should be removed from power and influence and not allowed to express these horrific ideas.

Julie

But they're not being removed from power; they are gaining power.

Gidon

I don't think that will last. There is too much momentum toward progress.


Julie

I hope you are right. But it seems to me that there is truth to it when people say we haven't learned the lessons of the Holocaust. In some ways, I think that far-right politicians very much learned, and what they learned is that it's better to couch your language, to be more nuanced so that your aims aren't totally clear. So, for example, we were just talking about transgender versus transgenderism, which is a right-wing dog whistle, as if who you are as a human being is an ideology with an agenda.


Gidon

They are using language to confuse people by softening it. They say, "We don't hate these communities; we just don't want them around." But their actions seem to be saying, "How do we prevent (the LGBTQIA community) from being in existence? That's not being said outright. They're not building, at least not yet, concentration camps or isolated communities for the LGBTQIA community, but it's just one or two steps ahead.

Julie

What fascist leaders do, part of their m.o. is to empower mouthpieces and embolden others. I'm thinking of Der Stürmer, that incredibly antisemitic newspaper that had terrible images and rhetoric encouraging antisemitic violence. So I think another parallel is that Ron DeSantis and other right-wing political leaders waging war against the trans community also emboldens people in communities to echo anti -trans rhetoric or sometimes even take violent action.

Gidon

And that is definitely what happened in Germany in the 1930s (and even before then.) People don't realize that the Nazis fanned flames and eventually created an atmosphere of terror and fear. Anyone, anytime, who questioned what was happening, was an enemy of the country, was an enemy of the Third Reich, and therefore could be done away with. No one felt and could feel safe. That was when it was too late.


Julie

That's the main takeaway from the Niemöller poem, you know. That in the end, no one is safe. If you sign onto hate for one group, just wait your turn. We have to be allies. This is our chance to actually learn from the past.


Gidon

Absolutely. Well said.


Julie

I feel like we do so much for Holocaust education, using your story to teach others, and the point is not that people should memorize dates or numbers or places but so that they can be aware of similar patterns today. Anywhere.


Gidon

Well, that's just it. Otherwise, what is the point?

Julie:

So this is the $64,000 question. How do we know when a line has been crossed?

Gidon

I don't know. America is a very big country, and I don't think that most states are implementing these ideologies. But we know there do exist in America groups that are collecting arms and educating their children to hate. They can be dangerous.


Julie

The other day, we talked about that teacher in Florida who is being investigated for indoctrination because she showed a Disney film with one gay character. We were going to do a TikTok about it but we didn't get around to it.


Gidon

It's absolutely ridiculous and frightening. It reminds me of the brown shirts spying on people and turning them in.


Julie

I was doing some reading about Mom's For Liberty and how they barnstorm school board meetings with lists of books to ban. They are really frightening. That's what inspired that TikTok we both really like. That and visiting the Eichmann exhibit.



Gidon

Did we show that one at Yad Vashem?


Julie

We did. Okay back to the subject: I often say "There have been many genocides but only one Holocaust" because I feel this direct comparison is not productive. What's your take on that?


Gidon

I don't think we have to put the Holocaust into the same basket with everything. I think that people do not take into consideration that it's also a totally different landscape between what took place in 1930s Germany and what's taking place in America. Times have changed. The situation is different. The country, the history is different. We don't need to compare. We need to act.


Julie

Fran Leibowitz once said "Genocides are like snowflakes; each one unique."


Gidon

I never heard that. But it makes a lot of sense.


Julie

Do you see this as a conversation that's important to be having?


Gidon

Yeah. I think that's one of the things that we should be aiming for. Let's talk about it. We need to put everything on the table. One of the things that I can't understand is why people feel threatened if someone is a homosexual or feels they are a different gender. Why does it threaten some people?

When I first found out that my oldest daughter was a lesbian, I wasn't happy, and it took me a while to internalize, understand, think about, and deal with it. And today, I am totally happy for her and love her. She goes through the same problems as any couple. How many heterosexual couples today stay together forever? Not too many.



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