The other night, I was reading my husband’s AEPi alumni magazine when I noticed a same-sex marriage announcement. I really didn’t think anything of it until much later that evening, when all of a sudden it hit me that this item had been included alongside all the other marriage announcements, no big deal. The fact that it wasn’t a big deal was, in fact, a big deal.
I wear many hats. I’m a social worker, a wife, a mom, a Clash fanatic and a Jew. I’m also a feminist and a progressive. Activism has always been important to me, ever since I was a kid. When I was eight, I wrote then-President Carter to give him advice on how to rescue the hostages in Iran. In middle and high school, I marched to free Soviet Jewry and for women’s reproductive rights. In college, I was a clinic escort. Currently, I am the state policy advocacy vice chair of the National Council of Jewish Women, St. Louis Section. Activism is central to who I am and has guided the choices I’ve made in my life.
As a straight ally, I’ve always been sensitive to the fact that I do not face the same challenges that LGBT individuals face on a daily basis. I worry sometimes that my activism comes from a place of straight privilege and that others may resent me for that. But I truly believe this is the civil rights issue of our generation, and the LGBT community deserves our unwavering support.
The Jewish community has always been on the forefront of these movements, from women’s suffrage to the civil rights movement. LGBT rights are a Jewish issue, which has been demonstrated by the thousands of Jewish activists across the country who have taken up this fight. And it is with great pride that I note the Jewish Supreme Court justices who voted to end the Defense of Marriage Act. (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, please live forever).
As a mother, I’m thankful that my 4-year-old son is growing up in a world where acceptance is becoming the norm (at least outwardly) and he’ll have the opportunity to marry the person he loves regardless of his sexual orientation.
I live in one of the reddest of red states. Last spring, the Missouri legislature introduced several bills, including a “Don’t Say Gay” bill that would have marginalized LGBT youth, prohibiting gay-straight alliance clubs in schools. In a state that has some of the most serious meth, puppy mill and human trafficking problems in the nation, this is what our state legislature chooses to focus on. Thankfully, the bill didn’t make it out of committee — this time.
In Missouri, there’s a small subset of progressive legislators (two of whom are Jewish women), and we have a governor who is friendly to many NCJW issues. Unfortunately, there is a veto-proof supermajority, and we anticipate a number of draconian measures passing next session. Measures like HB436 — the nation’s most extreme gun protection bill, according to the Huffington Post —and HB 400, which bans the provision of non-surgical (medication) abortion via telemedicine, which women have used as a safe healthcare option for more than 10 years.
As excited as I am about marriage equality being enacted in other states, in Missouri we still have to fight for the rights of LGBT people not just to be get married, but for the right not to be fired from their jobs, denied housing loans, denied access to public services, or face discrimination as students. Many municipalities have passed statutes that offer protections (including St. Louis City and the suburb where I live). Yet too many are unwilling to do so. That’s why NCJW, St. Louis Section is working with PROMO and coalition partners like JCRC to help pass the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, which passed the state Senate in May, but has yet to become law. It’s not even on the House’s calendar.
We’ve been working hard with coalition partners. And we’ll continue our fight for full equality so that someday my adult son will read about same sex-marriages in our local paper and think, “no big deal.” In fact, I hope his future is one where there’s no reason why he’d think about it at all.
Jennifer Bernstein is a social worker, mother, and activist living in Creve Coeur, Mo. She is the state policy advocacy vice chair of the National Council of Jewish Women, St. Louis Section.
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