Gay Jews mobilize to protest Gingrich and the right

When House Speaker Newt Gingrich orates at a Jewish Theological Seminary fund-raising dinner in December, he'd better be ready.

There will be "a visible Jewish response" to this spokesman for the right, said Esther Kaplan, who led a workshop at the recent International Conference of Gay and Lesbian Jews in New York on "Jewish and Queer in the Age of Newt."

The response, she said, will test how well Jewish gays and lesbians can work with others fighting the conservative Republican agenda, which Kaplan said aims to erode separation of church and state and limit the civil rights of homosexuals.

"We [gays, lesbians and bisexuals] find ourselves to be special targets of the juggernaut called the Christianization of America," she said.

"The political climate is creating less and less space for us to exist as queer or as Jews, and therefore calls us out" to protest "as both."

But coalitions are elusive, say some conference participants.

"I feel more allied with the gay community than with the Jewish community," said one.

"What about being transgender inclusive?" asked another.

"In the 1970s, we were all united around the [Vietnam] war," said a third. "But today there is infighting between men, women, gays, lesbians and transgenders."

New alliances can be forged, countered Susan Horowitz of Maine, who is working with several grassroots organizations to defeat a state initiative that would "limit the rights of special groups."

"There is a lot of activism going on and we need to emerge as a unified opposition," said Melanie Kaye Kantrowitz, of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.

Kantrowitz arrived breathless to the workshop on "Jewish and Queer in the Age of Newt," wearing a black T-shirt with the words: "No Special Rights for Christians." It turns out some teenagers had harassed her about it, and she spent the rest of her subway ride with her arms across her chest.

Toby Axelrod

Toby Axelrod is JTA’s correspondent for Germany, Switzerland and Austria. A former assistant director of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin office, she has also worked as staff writer and editor at the New York Jewish Week and published books on Holocaust history for teenagers.