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October 28, 1988 - Image 105

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-10-28

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

ANN ARBOR

Gay Jews are doubly sensitive
to discrimination

Pink Yellow Badges

SUSAN LUDMER-GLIEBE

Special to The Jewish News

lir

•-•

wo recent events at the
University of Michigan
have sparked the atten-
tion of gay rights acti-
vists. Both incidents —
and the responses to them — il-
lustrate the increasing visilibity of
gays and lesbians on campus. And
both, gays hope, may be seen as test
cases for the affirmation of gay rights
at the university.
On Oct. 4, the Michigan Student
Assembly withdrew recognition from
a campus religious group. Charges
had been brought before the MSA by
the Lesbian and Gay Rights Organiz-
ing Committee. They objected to the
Cornerstone Christian Church
Fellowship, which had sponsored a
performance by Oklahoma
songwriter Mike Deasy who sang a
song titled, "God Hates Queer and So
Do I."
The church has apologized for the
song, but said it will seek an appeal.
Several MSA members abstained
from the vote because they felt
withdrawal of recognition would cur-
tail the fellowship's right to free
speech.
In the other incident, a student
charged that an anti-gay limerick was
read in a class. The limerick made fun
of Olympic diver Greg Louganis'
alleged homosexuality.
Cynthia Straub, interim student
policy administrator, determined
after an investigation that the
limerick violated the university's
discrimination and discriminatory
student harassment policy. The policy,
adopted by the board of regents this
past April, insures students the right
to an education free of discrimination
or harassment on the basis of race,
sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion
or sex.
These two events illustrate the
ambiguous status of gays and les-
bians, and reflect the state of society
in general. Gays are increasingly
demanding recognition. But while
there's acceptance, there's also rejec-
tion and hostility.
Even without blatant bigotry,
Jewish gays and lesbians see a con-
nection between protecting and affir-
ming their Jewish identity and their
sexual identity.

"I think being Jewish prepared
me for the persecution of coming out;'
says Mindy Adelman, 19, a gay rights
activist.
"As a Jewish woman and as a les-
bian there's a whole other loss of
privileges;' adds another lesbian.
"If most Jewish gays relate their
two identities in some manner, they
appear to do it outside the context of
any formalized Jewish religious set-
ting. One lesbian felt, for example,
that most observances are oriented to
heterosexuals and there was no real
place for her.
Others find the organized Jewish
community to be tolerant, and often
supportive. Some even get comfort in
a theological netherland. "It's good
that I'm Jewish because God can ac-
cept us. Lesbians don't exist," says
Adelman.
For many Jewish gays there are
two symbols that join and bind the
present to the past, the homosekual
to the Jew: The pink triangle and the
yellow star of the Nazi era are not
forgotten.
"From my Jewish background my
parents instilled in me a social
responsibility;' says Mark Straka, 20.

"It was imperative to understand the
Holocaust and to stand up to anti-
Semitism."
One non-Jewish gay activist says
from her experience in working with
gay students, the Holocaust plays a
particular role. "People who are
Jewish and people who are political-
ly intense about what transpired in
Europe would find the fit between be-
ing Jewish and gay a good point of
reference?'
Straka says his political thinking
is embodied in the statement at-
tributed to anti-Nazi theologian Mar-
tin Niemoeller: "In Germany they
came first for the communists, and I
didn't speak up because I wasn't a
communist. Then they came for the
Jews, but I didn't speak up because I
wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the
trade unionists, but I didn't speak up
because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for me, and by that
time no one was left to speak up."

66

1

n the past 10 years some
things have gotten better,
some worse," says Jim Toy of
the Lesbian-Gay Male Program Office
at the University of Michigan. That

sums up much of the sentiment ex-
pressed by gays on campus.
Although gay students point to
the strides made by the university in
some quarters, they also acknowledge
that the climate toward gays — and
other minorities — is not free of
intolerance.
"The U-M is a middle ground
compared to other universities;' says
Mindy Adelman. "Lots of schools have
adopted gay rights policies, and
others would throw me out."
Other
schools,
including
Michigan State University, prohibit
discrimination against gays using a
variety of laws, statutes and by-laws.
Marc Straka feels that the U-M
regents have dragged their feet on
policy issues that protect gays.
"On paper we're protected;' says
Toy. And on paper, the U-M offers
many resources to lesbians and gay
men. There are two dozen social,
political, discussion and support
groups on and around the campus, in-
cluding Lesbian-Gay Law Students,
Gay Greeks, Lesbian and Gay Male
Hotline, the Alliance of Lesbian and
Gay Social Work Students, and the
Lesbian and Bisexual Support Group
for Jewish Women.
Why so many groups? "Because,
conservatively, 12 percent of the stu-
dent population is gay;' answers Billie
Edwards. Edwards and Toy know a lot
about those students. They are full-
time professional administrative staf-
fers for the Lesbian-Gay Male Pro-
grams Office, established 18 years
ago, and which remains the focus for
many of the services and programs of-
fered to gay and lesbian — and
heterosexual — students.
But if the university offers sup-
port, it cannot insure it. Straka has
good things to say about the U-M
Housing Division and its efforts at
sensitizing staff to discriminatory
behaviors.
All the same, living on the cam-
pus can get tough. "The dorms are op-
pressive," says Straka. "People are
afraid to come out in the dorms. Word
spreads quickly."
"When my lover and I walk on the
street during the day we get stares by
other women:' Adelman says. "At
night it's the men who react."

Adelman says that reaction often
is couched in what she considers to be
verbally offensive terms.

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

97

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