Canada’s Jews, Russia’s gays, and the global fight for equality

Yesterday I linked to an article in Maclean’s called “Why Canada’s Jews should stand up for Russia’s gays.” Writer Adam Goldenberg lays out the case for speaking out against Russia’s persecution of homosexuals, and for boycotting the Sochi Winter Games in particular, by citing a Canadian Jewish tradition of fighting for the rights of others as they would fight for their own.

For most of the past fifty years, Goldenberg writes, there have been two sides to the Jewish community’s anxiety about its own survival. “One has been steadfast support for Israel’s survival, if not always for the policies of its government. The other has been activism for universal human rights. If others are safe, we tell ourselves, then perhaps we will be too.”

So it was that Jewish groups in Canada came to defend not only their own rights, but the rights of all sort of minorities and oppressed groups in Canada and beyond. The Canadian Jewish Congress was especially instrumental in the drafting of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and it became “a leading voice for indigenous rights and LGBT equality in Canada, and for the prevention of genocide around the world.”

Although the Congress was dissolved in 2011, Goldenberg argues that the Canadian Jewish community has a duty to maintain the global fight for justice and equality. Now more than ever, he writes, “Canada’s Jews should prove our commitment to the values that protect us at home by standing up for those who are denied them abroad – and we should start with Russia’s LGBT community.”

It’s a very compelling argument, and the article as a whole is well worth a read. But at the risk of stating the obvious, the argument doesn’t just apply to Canada’s Jews. It applies to all of us who believe in the rights of others as deeply as we believe in our own, whether or not we’re members of traditionally oppressed groups.

What’s happening in Russian right now is appalling. It’s one thing for this sort of violent, virulent homophobia to be tolerated, but it’s another for it to be legally sanctioned – and it’s terrifying to think that these could be the early days of a broader and much more brutal wave of oppression.

We’ve seen it happen time and time again, whether or not we’ve experienced it directly. If widespread, systematic and state-sanctioned discrimination is unacceptable, then so are its earliest manifestations.

Now is not the time to look at Russia’s anti-LGBT legislation and violence and say “Well, let’s wait it out and see where it goes.” If we allow this discrimination to go unchecked, we enable it to escalate. Whenever we don’t say “That’s not okay,” we’re essentially saying it is.

I’ve actually been thinking a lot lately about this sort of thing. We could follow this train of thought in all sorts of different directions, and I think I’ll try to do that in the week ahead. Stay tuned, and feel free to share your thoughts in the meantime.

Posted in Social Action

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