JCCV on GLBT discrimination (or “When the report becomes part of the problem”)

November 2, 2011

The report of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria’s (JCCV) investigation into issues of vilification and discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members of the Jewish community was released this week.

Perhaps the only revelation in the “ground-breaking” 16 page report is the statement:

Of concern was the data provided by Hatzolah that indicates approximately one person under the age of 25 and one person over that age within the Jewish community attempts self harm or suicide per month.

From my discussions with Rabbi Mendel Kastel of the Jewish House in Sydney he told me he believed there were around 12 completed suicides per year in the Sydney Jewish community, a community that is comparable in size to that in Melbourne.  Both these scenarios are disturbing.  To the best of my knowledge there has never been a public conversation in Melbourne’s Jewish community on the topic of suicide prevention.

Disappointingly, yet unsurprisingly, this report has made scant mention of the positive stance on homosexuality and GLBT issues that exist in the strong and vibrant Progressive Jewish community in Victoria.  The report takes a biased Orthodox stance on homosexuality at the outset and portrays this as the only Jewish stance on homosexuality.  This is entirely disingenuous of the JCCV and is a symptom of the deep and ugly rift that exists between the Orthodox and Progressive sectors of the Jewish community.

The Progressive sector has over recent years becoming increasingly more accepting and inclusive of same-sex couples and GLBT people to the point that they have effectively become the model citizen of how a religious community can remove all barriers and discrimination facing GLBT people.  The apex of their acceptance to date came in May 2011 when the Progressive rabbinate called for full marriage equality under Australian law.

Yet the JCCV’s report has taken the Orthodox interpretation of Jewish Law (Halacha) and painted it as the only interpretation of Jewish Law:

The reference group recognised that Jewish Halacha prohibits gay sexual behaviour and, according to orthodox rabbinic interpretation, lesbian sexual behaviour.

The JCCV is not obliged to agree with the Orthodox stance on homosexuality.  The JCCV is simply an umbrella organisation representing a diverse and for the most part disparate range of perspectives on Judaism, none of which are absolute.  For the JCCV to take a single approach to this issue further strengthens my understanding that they are pandering to their majority Orthodox member-base.  They are not representing the entire community that they claim to be the voice of, but only the sector that is strategic for its survival.

The report shows the GLBT Reference Group has no formal representation from the Progressive community.  In their official capacity as members of the JCCV executive both John Searle and Anton Block staunchly support the Orthodox community and the Orthodox attitude toward homosexuality.  It would have been helpful if this bias had been included in the report, yet it was conveniently overlooked.

The report claims the reference group had a member of Jewish Care and a member of the Australian Jewish Psychologists on it.  I would like to know the professional expertise each of these two people brought to the table.  My understanding is that the psychologist on the reference group, Dr Ruth Kweitel, has a professional background in dealing with people who have gambling problems.  If this person is no longer on the reference group, I sincerely hope the JCCV managed to find a person who has a relevant background in GLBT issues.  Despite that, why were these two professionals not named in the report?  Are they concerned their professional credibility or reputation will be tarnished by being named in a report investigating GLBT issues?  Perhaps they too will become victims of the religious intolerance that exists in the community.

Another claim of the report is that a “third party” introduced the GLBT members of the reference group to the JCCV.  I was that third party, as the contact for Aleph Melbourne.  Read my blog on how the JCCV engaged this “third party”.  It doesn’t look very good for the JCCV when a GLBT support group operating for over 16 years is referred to as a “third party” in the report, and further is completely ignored in the report and by the reference group, without explanation.

Higher on my list of disappointments about the JCCV and their GLBT Reference Group are the GLBT people who sit on the reference group.  To be told by the JCCV that they must function within the constraint that Jewish law forbids homosexual behavior is deeply offensive and arrogant and it disappoints me that they tolerated this intolerance.  I am most disappointed that Transgender Victoria’s Sally Goldner, one of Australia’s most outspoken transgender and human rights activists, would even sit on a reference group that upholds the belief that all gay men and women are not free to live as equal human beings in a community, to live with the same dignity and acceptance as the rest of society.  Her reticence to speak to me or go public about her involvement with the reference group is evidence of her conflict in being on the reference group.  Sadly her integrity in caring for the welfare of all GLBT people has been brought into question as far as I am concerned.

Continuing the disappointment is the JCCV’s use of language to describe the people it is investigating:

  • GLBT Jews within our community
  • GLBT members of the Jewish community
  • Jewish GLBT community members
  • Jewish members of the GLBT community
  • members of our GLBT community
  • members of the GLBT community
  • members of the GLBT Jewish community
  • members of the Jewish GLBT community

The people this report should be talking about are all people in the Jewish community.  The problems are not just faced by “GLBT” people.  The problems are faced by those people who are not able to talk about their sexual orientation or their gender identity because they have not been empowered to do so, or who believe they are not allowed to do so.  They are the invisible people, the ones who are told they must conform, be heterosexual and get married to a person of the opposite sex.  They are the people who find themselves in loveless relationships, or in relationships that put them at conflict with their personal desires.  They are the children, the siblings, the parents, friends and relatives of everyone in the Jewish community.  They are not “members” of any section of the community.  They are the entire Jewish community.

I am not pleased about many aspects of this report, however I am pleased this report has been written because if nothing else, it highlights the topic of suicide and mental health issues that religious intolerance of homosexuality inflicts on same-sex attracted people.  It also puts GLBT issues on the radar and has created a starting place that can be built upon.  I am glad for this as it’s better than nothing.

It was singularly because of my concern for the welfare of both the visible and the invisible GLBT people in the community that I spearheaded the 1999 application for JCCV membership of Aleph.  Now some 12 years later my efforts are beginning to pay off and a momentum is building.  The road ahead is not going to be without significant challenges, but as the stalwarts of intolerance are increasingly displaced by a younger and more enlightened generation, I am confident that change for the better is inevitable.

I can only hope that the imminent change in JCCV presidency ushers in someone who has the necessary leadership skills, impartiality, competency, professionalism and selflessness to steer the JCCV in a direction that puts the welfare of all the people in the community it represents ahead of their own career prospects and ahead of the sensitivities of its various constituent organisations.


Taking a walk on the wild side (or “John Searle takes on Human Rights”)

August 24, 2011

[SOURCE]

Yesterday afternoon I was lucky enough to be walking around the shore of the Mallacoota Inlet with my partner Gregory.  It’s a delightfully beautiful part of Victoria and we were absorbed in the magic of moment.  We live in a part of the world where we have many liberties and rights that others in less fortunate parts of the world are unable to similarly enjoy.  Living in a legal same-sex relationship, having the right to criticise government and having the right to vote in a democracy are but a few of these.

Yet in all of this our community faces many challenges before we can call ourselves world-class in the human rights arena.  And so we have the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) to help us get there, one way or another.

Between sampling wild cherries, photographing sting-ray and marvelling at the ability of pelicans to hover mid-flight inches over the surface of the lake, my phone alerted me to a new email.  I quickly checked the message and saw it was a media release announcing the appointment of the new chairperson to the board of the VEOHRC.

Over the course of the evening and into today I fielded an amazing barrage of emails from all manner of human rights activists, media and other interested parties in Victoria, particularly from the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) community.  The messages were mainly along the lines of “have you seen this…”.  Yes, I had, only minutes after it had been announced.

The concern of these people was mainly centred around my past involvement with John Searle and my call for him to raise the visibility of GLBT human rights within the Victorian Jewish community.  It’s been a real challenge getting any traction on the issue, and I must admit that I never for once expected any degree of cooperation on this fraught topic.

Yet now with John Searle being appointed to the chair of the board of the VEOHRC (note, not the role of Commissioner), it puts him in a more public and accountable role on the issues of human rights and equal opportunity, for all Victorians.

Of particular concern to me is Searle’s ability to lead his board in making the best decisions for the welfare of GLBT Victorians.  He has shown glimmers of hope in wanting us to believe he’s genuine in his commitment to this cause.  Take for example the current Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) inquiry into the extent of vilification and discrimination against GLBT people in the Victorian Jewish community.  Listen to his interview on JOY 94.9 FM here.

What I find most intriguing about this high-profile appointment is that I would expect the incumbent to have a gleaming A+ record on being a strong and outspoken advocate for all human rights.  In my human rights activism over the past 3 years dealing with John Searle, in his presidency of the JCCV, I have found that that he has an unconventional approach to human rights.

Allow me to highlight three particular scenarios.

1. The Progressive Jewish movement has for a long time been amongst the foremost proponents for equality and inclusion of GLBT people in their religious communities.  The Australian Progressive Jewish community has proven to be a shining light on how a religious community can go beyond tolerance of GLBT people and actually include and accept them unquestioningly as equals.  So much so that the Australian Progressive Jewish community has called for full marriage equality for non-heterosexual Jewish couples.

Progressive Judaism Victoria, the Victorian organisation representing the Progressive Jewish community, is a member of the JCCV.  Yet despite PJV being a voting member of the JCCV, John Searle has yet to acknowledge their exemplary stance on GLBT human rights, and goes so far as to refuse to acknowledge their legitimacy as Jews in the Australian Jewish context.

2. Orthodox Judaism is uncompromising on its intolerance of homosexuality.  A significant number of the member organisations of the JCCV are actively members of the Orthodox community, or closely aligned with it.  Searle himself strongly follows Orthodox Jewish tradition.  Yet despite the absolute and uncompromising intolerant nature of Orthodox Jewish dogma when it comes to homosexuality, Searle has never once distanced himself from this repressive and homophobic attitude.  Simply put, he endorses it’s right to exist, under claims that it is “Jewish Law” and is immutable.

This spin never fails to amaze me, as the Progressive Jewish community have worked their way through these tough issues of “Jewish Law” and come out intact on the other side.  It seems the Orthodox Jewish community lacks the desire to confront this particular challenge, despite them having confronted countless other issues over many hundreds, if not thousands of years.  Most notably, they don’t stone homosexuals to death any more, as their dogma still dictates.

Even though the JCCV promotes itself as “The voice of Victorian Jewry”, under Searle’s presidency it has taken a strong stance in favour of its Orthodox membership, leaving its more open-minded and accepting Progressive, Conservative and Secular membership starkly unrepresented.

This situation was recently evidenced when the JCCV put out a media release claiming

Rabbi Rapoport contends that the GLBT community must accept that they cannot become official members of the JCCV as this would fracture the Jewish community.

I commented on this here.

3. Since late 2009 John Searle has singularly refused to have any contact with the only Jewish GLBT social and support group in Victoria, Aleph Melbourne.  He has not stated a credible reason for this situation and frankly it strikes me as a bizarre situation for his organisation, especially when it is trying to understand why GLBT Jews in Victoria feel vilified and discriminated against.

I can only hope that under the eye of public scrutiny John Searle will act in a more transparent and accountable fashion in his role as chair of the board of the VEOHRC than he has done with his presidency of the JCCV.

Further, I can only hope that he works to restore a healthy and wholesome relationship with the organisation I represent, of which there are a sizeable number of GLBT Jewish members.

To this end I hope that under the chair of John Searle, the VEOHRC can provide the best protection for GLBT Victorians on the grounds of human rights and equal opportunity.


What do organ donation and homosexuality have in common?

June 20, 2011

[SOURCE] [PDF]

On May 23 2011 the Jewish Community Council of Victoria made a submission to the Victorian Government on the topic of organ donation.  In this submission I found a particularly profound statement by the JCCV President, John Searle:

Also note, the Jewish community is very diverse and ranges in its religious views from ultra-orthodox to secular

This was written in the context of how the issue of organ donation might be treated by different sections of the Jewish community.  The more Orthodox members of the community will have a different approach to organ donation than the Progressives, who may have a different approach to the non-religious or secularists.

Do you see where I’m going with this?  Read on.

The JCCV has stated openly to the government that there are a diverse variety of Jews in the community that it claims it is the voice for, and that in writing the submission, it has made it clear that there is no one position on organ donation in the Jewish community.  I’d agree with that.

Now let’s play a game.  I like to call it “swapsies”.  It’s where you swap some words in a sentence for some other words and see how the changed text reads.  Here’s the revised wording I’d like to propose:

After an extensive community consultation, we have provided a summary below in response to “other matters that should be considered in relation to mechanisms to increase acceptance of homosexuality in Victoria.” Please note that Halacha or Halachic refers to Jewish law and the way Jews live their lives, be it from a religious or traditional perspective. Also note, the Jewish community is very diverse and ranges in its religious views from ultra-orthodox to secular.

This new statement is as equally valid as the one that the JCCV submitted to the Victorian Government.  However it’s not one that the JCCV has yet made, but there’s no reason why it couldn’t be, at an appropriate juncture.  Thing is, I was told in person by John Searle in late 2009 that there is only a single Jewish approach to homosexuality.  I challenged him on this outrageous and false statement, one that I’ll go as far as to call a blatant and outright lie, stating to him that there are a range of Jewish views on homosexuality.  That was the point where Searle then sent me this letter telling me he couldn’t work with me because apparently I was being obstructionist.  Me.  Obstructionist.  Ha.  Only to his ego and career prospects.

Thanks to John Searle we now know there’s more than one Jewish perspective on organ donation.  In fact he’s told us there’s a whole range of opinions on the issue in the very diverse Jewish community that the JCCV claims to speak on behalf of.  Funnily enough, I know there’s also a range of opinions on the issue of homosexuality in the same very diverse community that the JCCV claims to speak on behalf of, yet John Searle won’t admit this.

Searle and his JCCV have never once mentioned that the Progressive Jewish community are completely accepting of homosexuality.  So accepting are the Progressives of homosexuality that they’ve recently endorsed their support for legislative change allowing same-sex couples to get married.  But we won’t hear a word of this from the JCCV.  It’s shtumville there.

That looks and smells like the usual JCCV double standards to me.  But that’s not a surprise, because the JCCV is full of smelly double standards.


Orthodox rabbis champion homosexual acceptance and same-sex marriage

June 14, 2011

[SOURCE]

Our friends over at AJN Watch have published a delightfully accepting and heart-warming piece about homosexuality and marriage equality.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.  Please thank them for their care and concern.

PS.  If the link above is broken, try this backup PDF version.


Suicide, binge drinking and GLB intolerance in the Jewish community

April 25, 2011

Joe. My. God. recently wrote a short piece about new research, published in Pediatrics (the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics) –  showing that gay children are less prone to suicide and other harmful behaviour if they are brought up in an accepting environment.

A new study out of Oregon indicates that gay kids that grow up in a supportive environment are 20% less likely to attempt suicide. We knew this, of course, but now there’s some science behind it.

The results of this research advise:

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were significantly more likely to attempt suicide in the previous 12 months, compared with heterosexuals (21.5% vs 4.2%). Among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth, the risk of attempting suicide was 20% greater in unsupportive environments compared to supportive environments. A more supportive social environment was significantly associated with fewer suicide attempts, controlling for sociodemographic variables and multiple risk factors for suicide attempts, including depressive symptoms, binge drinking, peer victimization, and physical abuse by an adult (odds ratio: 0.97 [95% confidence interval: 0.96–0.99]).

In the Melbourne Jewish community there is a diversity of acceptance of homosexuality and bisexuality ranging from complete acceptance to complete intolerance, with the visible balance leaning more toward the latter than the former.  Sadly the level of enlightenment in this community surrounding human sexuality has a long way to go before the reality and unconditional acceptance of it outweighs the fundamentalist beliefs in religious dogma opposing it.

As I have recently written, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) is giving high visibility to its Youth Alcohol Program (YAP).  Yet it has given nothing but lip service to the issue of the welfare of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people in the Jewish community.  Further, the JCCV has made it evident that it is backing the intolerant Orthodox Jewish perspective on homosexuality, whilst being silent on the commendable attitude the Progressive Jewish movement has adopted.

I implore the officer of the JCCV YAP Debbie Zauder to read this research.  It’s likely that a contributing factor to the issue of binge drinking in the Jewish community, the main issue that her project is charged to address, is the intolerance of homosexuality that her employer believes is acceptable and justifiable.  It may not be a large factor but it is likely to be a relevant factor.

A holistic approach to welfare of the community’s youth needs to be adopted, rather than one that targets individual behaviours.  It is likely to be a futile effort to stop binge drinking in isolation when it could well be a symptom of a far deeper and more insidious problem or set of problems.

The community, its leaders, parents and young people need to understand that homosexuality and bisexuality is normal and healthy.  Intolerance of homosexuality and bisexuality is abnormal and unhealthy as the research proves.

It is imperative that the vocal leaders, claiming to be the voice of the community, and applying for government funding to look after the welfare of the members of the community (and perhaps their own political careers), put aside their egos and arrogance and adopt some humility and humanity.  Until that time they will continue to need a YAP and they can continue to enjoy alarming rates of suicide and harmful behaviour in the community’s vulnerable youth.


Rabbi Dovid Freilich shows his ignorance of marriage in Australia

April 21, 2011

The following appears on page 6 of the April 22, 2011 Melbourne edition of the Australian Jewish News:

Majority for gay marriage

GARETH NARUNSKY

IN Wentworth, the Sydney electorate with the highest number of Jewish voters, more than 72 per cent of people support same-sex marriage.

That figure comes from a survey conducted by shadow communications minister Malcolm Turnbull after the House of Representatives called on MPs to gauge voter opinion on extending the definition of marriage.

Jewish gay, lesbian bisexual, transgender and intersex group Dayenu has welcomed the results, but the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia (ORA) said it remained opposed.

Out of 2333 Wentworth residents who responded to the survey, 72.7 per cent said they were in favour of gay marriage.  Wentworth takes in the suburbs where a majority of Sydney’s Jews live.

Dayenu president Roy Freeman said the survey’s results were “amazing”.

“It would be great to see a Liberal MP of his standing taking a particular stand on this particular topic,” he said.

ORA president Rabbi Dovid Freilich said his organisation opposed any legislation to legitimise same-sex marriage.  “This is not intended to show any discrimination against the gay community, but simply to uphold the sanctity and purpose of marriage, which is the union of man and woman in not only expressing their love for one another, but in also bringing future generations into this world,” he said.

Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins of Sydney’s progressive Emmanuel Synagogue said “new times called for new readings”.

“Both the Progressive and Masorti movements have gone on record to endorse the rights of same-sex couples to have their exclusive committed relationships recognised and honoured by tradition,” he said.

Michael Danby, the MP in Melbourne Ports, which has the highest number of Jewish voters in Melbourne, has invited submissions rather than running a survey.

Today I submitted the following Letter to the Editor:

Thank you for your article on gay marriage.  The overwhelming evidence shows a clear change in thought on how modern Australians believe in equality for all citizens.

However, it is evident that Rabbi Freilich does not fully understand about marriage in Australia when he talks about a purpose for marriage, because the federal Marriage Act does not stipulate that a married couple must bring future generations into this world.

Despite this, numerous same-sex couples successfully raise happy, healthy children, even in the Jewish community.  If Rabbi Freilich would like to see these children raised with the full support of the Jewish community he should be campaigning for the removal of the legislation preventing marriage equality.  His actions will only harm those in same-sex relationships and their children.  Is this what the rabbi wants?

I suspect the good rabbi is more interested in blindly following harmful and outdated religious dogma than the welfare of the people in the Jewish community, but I remain open to correction.


Star Observer keeping the AJN & JCCV bastards honest

March 9, 2011

[SOURCE]

This week Star Observer‘s Andie Noonan flexed her journalistic prowess and went one or two steps further than the half-baked effort by the phantom staff reporter at the Australian Jewish News.  Two weeks ago the AJN simply printed a lame rehash of the deeply offensive JCCV media release on addressing the Jewish community’s GLBT problem.  The Star Observer’s story contains a well-rounded understanding of the situation and presents a number of perspectives, to help the reader better understand the issues.  A far cry from the AJN’s limp coverage.

Why are the AJN always running scared of the JCCV?  Does their editorial mandate prevent them from countering JCCV dictate when it comes to matters of homosexuality?  Are the gays not allowed a voice?

Thanks Andie.  It’s good to see some intelligent and balanced reporting.  Keep keeping the bastards honest.


My Letter to the AJN Editor

February 25, 2011

In response to the AJN’s unbalanced coverage of the JCCV’s latest “open mouth, change feet” statement of GLBT “inclusion” (I think they actually meant “exclusion” – they seem to get the two concepts mixed up so often these days), I have submitted this Letter to the Editor:

Dear Editor,

I welcome the historic resolution on Gender and Sexual Equality that the assembly of World Union for Progressive Judaism recently passed at their convention in San Francisco.  This resolution condemns bigotry and discrimination and calls for equality of gay and lesbian people in all facets of the community.

This approach by the WUPJ is in direct contrast to that being suggested by the JCCV-endorsed Rabbi Chaim Rapoport who “contends that the GLBT community must accept that they cannot become official members of the JCCV as this would fracture the Jewish community”.

The position that the JCCV and Rabbi Rapoport are taking on this matter of inclusion and acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members of the Jewish community is in direct contradiction with the best practices of Australian health professionals expert in the area of human sexuality.

I strongly urge the JCCV to adopt a more inclusive, transparent and secular approach to this serious matter.  It seems that the JCCV have forgotten that they are not a religious organisation and that they represent a diverse range of religious and non-religious interests.

Michael Barnett.

I managed to keep the letter to under 250 words and have submitted it well in advance of the deadline for the AJN Letters column, so I’m sure they’ll publish it in the next edition.


WUPJ – The Jewish Superhero

February 25, 2011

[SOURCE]

It’s heartening to see the Progressive Jewish world working to reduce the isolation and marginalisation of same-sex attracted people.  Unconditional acceptance and inclusion is the only way this can be done effectively and it seems they are on track here.

Yes, there is the big elephant in the room about same-sex marriage, and there doesn’t appear to be a light at the end of that tunnel yet.  I am optimistic that when the federal government here in Australia removes the obstacles to marriage equality, the Progressive community will be open to discussing this issue in a sensible and respectful manner.  I would be happiest to hear them say they will fully support the evolution of the Marriage Act.

I have included below a communication from Philip Bliss, President of Progressive Judaism Victoria and the Chair of the World Union For Progressive Judaism Resolutions Committee.  It contains the relevant resolution passed at the recent WUPJ assembly in San Francisco.  Clearly this is a step in the right direction.  I have asked Philip Bliss to have his committee consider including mention of bisexuality and gender identity, and reminded them that same-sex attracted people generally find the term “sexual orientation” favourable over “sexual preference”.

A hearty Mazal Tov to the Progressive community.  They are great advocates of human rights and equality and set a high benchmark for others to follow.

Dear Michael
In response to your email
As chair of the WUPJ resolutions committee I was delighted that the resolution below was passed by a huge majority (only one vote against) at our recent WUPJ convention in San Francisco. I also gave on interview on the GLT radio station Swirl a few days after.
I would say that this resolution covers the attitude of the UPJ and PJV here in Victoria
Sincerely
Philip Bliss President PJV


2) WUPJ Resolution on Gender and Sexual Equality
Whereas this International body of the World Union for Progressive Judaism condemns all forms of bigotry and discrimination in our society as being  incompatible with the preservation of human dignity which is destructive of tzelem elohim.
And whereas the WUPJ upholds the principle of treating all people equally whether by gender, age, colour or sexual preference.
And whereas the WUPJ has long championed full equality of women in our movement and in society generally.
IT IS RESOLVED that this International Assembly of the World Union for Progressive Judaism  calls on all institutions, colleges, congregations and youth groups to give equal opportunity to gay and lesbian members,  especially in terms of leadership and learning and to be aware of gender issues when developing study curriculum
IT IS FURTHER RESOLVED that this International Assembly of the World Union for Progressive Judaism calls on all institutions associated with the WUPJ to treat gay and lesbian couples in the same manner as married heterosexual couples and families.  This call includes commitment ceremonies, and family membership fees.


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