Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Straight Ally Speaks Out at the Anti-Defamation League

Kay Heggestad, PFLAG’s Midwest Regional Director, PFLAG mom, and member of the Straight for Equality in Healthcare advisory committee sent the following comments from Liebe Gadinsky, an out and proud straight ally who recently received the Human Rights Award from the Anti-Defamation League at their ADL Jurisprudence Luncheon. According to eQualityGiving.org, Liebe is a strong supporter of LGBT equality and a member of the board of trustees for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Her comments from the November 12 event are as follows:

Thank you, Dennis. You can be my publicist anytime. So here I am in a room filled with attorneys, wondering how I got here. I feel like such an interloper. As if that's not enough reason to be nervous, being bestowed with the Bob Kanziger human rights award is just plain intimidating. Bob was a spectacular human being with a heart of gold. In fact, my husband felt so strongly about Bob's character and achievements that he pushed for this award to be named in Bob's honor. Last year it went to Dennis Kainen, obviously a very worthy recipient. I am humbled to follow in the footsteps of Dennis and Bob.

I'm often asked why I am involved in so-called "gay rights." The follow-up question is usually something like, "is someone in your family gay?" So I'm left to wonder, is it just too hard for people to imagine that someone (else) would advocate for something or someone that doesn't really affect them? Truthfully, more often than not, the person asking the question is gay or lesbian. Perhaps he or she just cannot imagine that they are worthy enough to be... advocated for. How can this be? My theory: Because when your own government tells you for so long that you are not worthy... that you are not full citizens... that you deserve to be denied housing, employment, public accommodation, federal tax benefits, the right to marry or adopt a child, the freedom to take out a loan together... That to serve in the military you must pretend to be heterosexual.... That to fall in love with someone from another country, you have no hope of favorable immigration laws helping them to become legal residents by virtue of your relationship... That if you go in the emergency room, your beloved same-sex partner of 25 years may not be allowed to visit, That when you die, your family of origin may swoop in and claim all your assets leaving your partner out in the cold... Well maybe you just stop thinking you're worthy.

Remember, these are our federal, state and local governing bodies telling you that you don't matter, that you are second class citizens at best. You might be able to dismiss as lunatic the hateful picketing of Fred Phelps at funerals saying "God hates Fags." You might be able to overcome the cloying rhetoric of some right wing (often well-intended) evangelicals who say, "Love the sinner; hate the sin." Your self-esteem with enough parental love and a luxurious dose of therapy might have survived the daily abusive comments heard in every junior high "That's so Gay", or the ridiculous caricatured representations in film and television. You might be strong enough to ignore the lyrics espousing violence against gays in Buju Banton's music. You might accept the fact that you can't travel to certain countries in Africa and the Middle East, where homosexuality is punishable by none other than death. But when your own government in what is reputed to be among the most advanced nations on earth is legalizing discrimination, it's hard to imagine that you are worth fighting for.

Come to think of it, perhaps my family is my inspiration, after all. By contrast, one of my brothers married a Brazilian woman (his third wife) without worrying that she'd be deported. My mother, divorced, single, (worn out from already rearing over a dozen of her own children) and 58 years old, was allowed to adopt a toddler. Another brother has been divorced four times but (if he so chooses) will be allowed to marry again without question. He won't have to fly to Massachusetts or Iowa or Canada to do it, and his most-likely, short-lived marriage will be honored in every state and worldwide.

So you can see how I find it difficult to be asked why I take this so personally. How could I not take this personally? How could I not want to change the laws, raise money for sensitivity training for our teachers, uphold SAVE Dade and Equality Florida? How could I not support the arts which celebrate the glories of GLBT life? How could I not want to get fair-minded people elected to office? How could I not be proud of the ADL for its "No Place for Hate" training program?

Indeed, I think from now on, I should answer the question with one of my own: why don't we all get so involved with advancing equality for our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered brothers and sisters?

In this room, having grown up with the pain of the holocaust all too near, you quickly realize that the question is almost silly. We all have the opportunity to be heroes, Oskar Schindlers or Nelson Mandelas in our own universes. Every day we are presented with moments where we can take a stand against disparaging comments like "That's so gay". Every day we can write a check or volunteer at a phone bank or contact our legislators or write a letter to the editor or encourage our friends to vote to make a difference.

I will not sleep well until these "discrepancies" are resolved. How can I enjoy all those privileges I've done nothing to earn, knowing that the friends I treasure most go to bed without the security of protection from discrimination? It was only recently that anti-sodomy laws were repealed. Until this hate crimes bill, there had not been one federal law passed protecting gays and lesbians in the 40 years since Stonewall. Every tiny advance towards equality is an exhausting, exorbitantly expensive battle of epic proportions, personally and societally. This discrimination hurts us all.

It comes as a particular honor to be up here today among the best and the brightest who can make a difference in changing these primitive, cowardly laws through legislation and litigation. The Anti-Defamation League has taken a stand on all these issues and more. It has rightfully understood that history has a way of repeating itself; that in defending gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons, we are taking a stand against the real enemies: discrimination and hatred.

Thank you, to the ADL, particularly Michael Lieberman, for taking the lead for TEN YEARS on amending the federal hate crimes bill to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Thank you, Andy Rosenkranz, for fearlessly leading the ADL which protects all of us. Thank you, David Barkey, for fighting Amendment 2, and lobbying for the Safe Schools Anti-Bullying act. Thank you to my heroes and mentors who have fought this good fight for years at great personal cost: Richard Milstein, Jerry Chasen, Rosemary Wilder, Greg Baldwin, Georg Ketelhohn, Joe Falk, Mark Steinberg, Dennis Edwards, and Ruth Shack, to name but a few. Thank you to my husband Seth who has stood right alongside me at the polls and town hall meetings and has stuffed envelopes and volunteered in every way for the causes we both hold dear.

The buck stops here, ladies and gentlemen... in this room... with you and me and the ADL.

Together let's do what we can to make our brothers and sisters full citizens of this democracy. Thank you.