My uncle Harvey Milk came into this world with all the potential any proud Jewish family could have hoped for, but he also came into a world that would be rocked by World War II. The great evil the world saw with the horrific persecution and mass murder of minorities — from Jews and Roma to many members of the LGBT community — led Harvey to adopt the Jewish community’s postwar message, “never forget,” as his compass for human rights. He saw that our community, the Jewish community, took the ideal of b'tzelem elohim, that all are created in the image of the divine, to heart, through standing arm-in-arm with those fighting for the civil rights movement and helping to lead the women's right movement.
And my uncle knew he could count on his Jewish brothers and sisters in the fight for the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, a movement that was advanced with the tragedy of his assassination in 1978.
Jewish support for the LGBT community was visible back even in 1965 when the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods (now Women of Reform Judaism) passed a resolution condemning the criminalization of homosexuality when no one else would. My uncle was quite prophetic in his belief that fellow Jews would be among the first to fight for marriage in numerous states, as they have — Jewish organizations ranging from the Religious Action Center to the Anti-Defamation League and local communities around the country have championed LGBT equality efforts for decades. But the fight is not over, and this is why the LGBT community needs you to carefully weigh your vote in this year's presidential election — an election that is likely to impact LGBT individuals for years to come.
I ask you to look at our two options for our next president.
We'll start with President Barack Obama. The president's record of advancing pro-LGBT legislation is too extensive to list, but highlights include repealing the discriminatory "don't ask, don't tell" policy, signing into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and issuing a mandate that requires hospitals to provide LGBT families the same visitation policies given to everyone else. The president has issued unprecedented instruction to all foreign US offices, encouraging collaboration with at-risk minority communities, including LGBT people.
Through my work at the Harvey Milk Foundation, I have seen firsthand the growing tide of hate currently proliferating throughout the world toward the Jewish, LGBT, and Roma communities. This alarming growth of hatred has, at its core, the false premise that minorities should not be included in hard times. The Obama administration is one of the few voices on the world stage working to not only counter these false messages but also to bring together diverse communities.
President Obama also became the first sitting U.S. president ever to declare support for same-sex marriage, joining 81% of American Jews, who according to recent polling by the Public Religion Research Institute, also share his desire that same-sex couples be able to celebrate their love — under a chuppah, at a church, or in the town hall — the same as different-sex couples. This statement of support, as small as it may have seemed to some, sent waves of hope and acceptance through the LGBT community, making us believe that there might finally be a true advocate in office for our cause.
Now I ask you look to at Governor Romney's record. The governor carved out an extremist anti-LGBT position from the beginning to appeal to socially conservative voters. Governor Romney voiced his opposition to not just same-sex marriage but even to civil unions, putting him at odds with the views of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. What’s more, Mitt Romney openly declared he would not support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that would prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. This position puts him out of touch with 73% of all voters — even 66% of Republicans — who support protecting LGBT individuals from workplace discrimination.
Outside of his disconcerting policy stances, Mitt Romney's personal interactions with the LGBT community are disturbing at best. One LGBT advocate told the Boston Spirit that during a conversation with the then-governor of Massachusetts about same-sex marriage, Romney told the group, "I didn't know you had families." And who can forget the Washington Post story highlight of Governor Romney's role in bullying a gay classmate, cutting off his hair because Romney deemed it "effeminate." I know I can't.
The Jewish community has been involved in every major civil rights fight in American history. We know with our all too painful memory of the ancestors we lost due to intolerance and hate-mongering that those who marginalize and diminish any minority group should put us all on alert. The struggle for LGBT equality is no different. I am an American who is proudly Jewish and proudly gay. The LGBT community needs support and the Jewish community needs to be at the forefront. Not just because of b'tzelem elohim, but because it is the right thing to do. There is only one choice for the LGBT community, and that choice is President Barack Obama.