Queer blood is shed every single day

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Every day the torment grew worse. Until finally, Pharaoh snapped. The first-born boy of every Israelite family — children of promise, of potential, of possibility — would be sacrificed to the psychotic hate machine. Another child. Every day.

The story of the Exodus is a powerful one. It teaches that pharaohs fall. It reminds us that when the forces of hate consume our children, God takes note.

This week, LGBTQ communities across this country have borne witness to a similar obsessive hate. In a bar in Orlando, that hate resulted in the slaughter of 49 young, glorious souls — as queer people are always murdered in this country. Every day.

A roll call of misery. Juan. Edward. Luis. Peter. Eric. Each name someone’s child, full like an autumn fig of sweet promise. A young life destroyed. Another name.

I remember the awful morning in 2015 when I heard of the lives destroyed in the attack on the kosher supermarket in Paris. My grief mingled with anger when I heard newscasters describe an attack on a “Paris market” or a “French grocery.” No mention of the Jewishness of the store, nor its patrons inside, no mention of the very reason they were attacked.

I felt a similar anger when I heard the attack on the Pulse bar described as a “nightclub attack” or “the Orlando attack.” Gov. Rick Scott couldn’t even bring himself to say the word “gay.” Politicians like Scott were all too eager to describe this massacre as a battle in the “war on our freedom,” an “attack on America.”

And so our queerness, the very reason that these beautiful young souls were targeted, was ignored. That 49 queer people were murdered, in a place designed to be our home, was rendered irrelevant.

To their killer, it was most certainly not irrelevant. His target was not “our freedom.” His target was not “America.” His target was queer people.

America, in fact, is a place that has tolerated and abetted and sanctioned attacks on queer people. Gay bars like Pulse exist as safe havens, to protect queer folks from America, from its “religious liberty” laws and bathroom panic — the toxic atmosphere that has cultivated the murder of queer folks in America.

But when the murderer happens to be Muslim, suddenly we’re part of “America”? What about when no Muslims are around to scapegoat? Are queers part of America then? Are queers part of America when frat boys beat on trans women? When gay men are afraid to walk the street hand in hand? When it’s legal to get fired for being a lesbian?

We may imagine America to be a place of equal justice, a place that lives up to our highest ideals. But queer people don’t live in fantasy America. Queer people live in the real America of gay bashing and second-class citizenship. And queer people of color live in the real America of homophobia and murderous racism. Every day.

The book of Leviticus demands: “Lo ta’amod al dam reyecha!” “Do not stand motionless while your neighbor’s blood is shed!” Make no mistake about it: Hateful words create an atmosphere in which blood is shed. Not just in Orlando.

And so, in our grief, we honor the adults who don’t stand around when a queer child is harassed or bullied. We honor the politicians who vote to save queer lives, even when they lose votes. We honor the queer people who come out in a society that has wished us dead. We honor the courage of queer kids and queer adults who refuse to hide, who come together, who laugh and love and dance and dream and dare to be themselves — to be their glorious, gorgeous, queer selves. Every day.

And we honor the Jews who refuse to give in to the cynical seduction of Islamophobia, who demand that their synagogues and Jewish camps and day schools celebrate their LGBTQ members. We honor the Jews who remember the teaching of the Exodus, who remember that the kosher supermarket was not just a “French grocery,” who remember the pain of being ignored, harassed, massacred. Every day.

Aren’t we tired of listing the victims of hate?

But their blood cries out to us from the ground. Remember us. Refuse to look away. Make sure there is no next time. Make sure our voices rattle the gates of power, the very gates of Heaven. Remember the Exodus. Topple the pharaohs. Protect the children. Reach out to one another. Forge a world of compassion, of love, of justice. Together. Speak up. Speak out.

This day. Every day.

Rabbi Michael Rothbaum serves as the Bay Area co-chair for Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice. He lives in Oakland with his husband.

Rabbi Mike Rothbaum
Rabbi Michael Rothbaum

Rabbi Michael Rothbaum serves Congregation Beth Elohim in Acton, Massachusetts. He formerly served at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley and Beth Chaim Congregation in Danville.