The rise of Trump and homophobes is the last gasp of a minority who know they can’t win, gay rabbi says
Rabbi Michael Adam Latz, senior rabbi of Shir Tikvah Congregation in Minneapolis, Minnesota, explains how by reframing the debate over marriage equality, his congregation managed to shift public opinion.
Next summer will mark 25 years since I was accepted at seminary – a graduate school for rabbis – as the only openly gay student in the year.
I was not the first LGBT+ student to enrol, however.
The hard-won rights of those before me meant that I would not be defined by my sexuality.
Instead, I would be allowed to serve my congregation in Minneapolis as the world prepared to usher in a new millennium.
Rabbi Latz rallied for same-sex marriage support in Minneapolis and won.
In the years following my graduation, attitudes to homosexuality in the US changed rapidly and in 2003 the US Supreme Court ruled the criminalisation of homosexuality unconstitutional.
Since this landmark ruling, states across the country have passed laws legalising same-sex marriage, though it should also be noted that others have moved to block this.
In my home state of Minnesota in 2011 and 2012, we had a constitutional amendment on the ballot which would have enshrined discrimination by ensuring that marriage could only be between a man and a woman.
We mobilised a campaign to defeat it but, for whatever reason, the language around human rights was not sufficient to shift the conversation – we would have to switch the dynamic up.
We had one-on-one conversations about what marriage meant to them and we spoke about how love and commitment made marriage.
Once we did that, we asked the question: Should people be denied the chance to express their love and commitment legally?
In the first poll that was taken a year and a half before the election, only 18 percent of the state opposed the proposed amendment.
But over the course of the next year and a half, people on our side of the argument were able to move that 18 percent all the way to 53 percent.
‘Only by talking about things that everybody could relate to were we able to move the dial.’
Part of what we learned was that while rights are important, it was too abstract a concept for people who were either not politically engaged or may have been uncomfortable about the idea of two men getting married.
Only by talking about things that everybody could relate to were we able to move the dial.
Speaking to people from across the religious spectrum, we would ask two questions.
The first was: “Should the church or synagogue be able to decide who can and can’t be married there?”
To which they would reply: “Yes”.
The second question was essentially the same as the first but framed differently.
“Does the state have any compelling interest in saying to two men or two women who love each other that they shouldn’t be able to take care of one another?”
All of a sudden, we were able to move around 35 percent of the public from supporting discrimination to opposing it.
Anti-LGBT violence is on the rise in the US.
Today, upwards of 80 percent of the state favour marriage equality and while that means one out of five Minnesotans don’t, the shift in public opinion has been remarkable.
Inviting people to have conversations about what marriage is rather than who marriage is for fundamentally changed the discussion, and we have since sought to use that model on other issues such as trans rights and gun control.
Like many western democracies, political opinion is becoming increasingly polarised in the US.
This is in no small part due to a president whose hateful rhetoric has emboldened bigots across the country.
Donald Trump’s election campaign in 2016 exploited people’s genuine grievances and blamed them on economic migrants, refugees and Muslims, while at the same time promising them the world. Needless to say, he was wrong on all counts.
This virulence has also spurred racists and homophobes across the country. According to the FBI, hate crimes against LGBT+ people have risen incrementally over the last three years.
This anti-LGBT sentiment also extends to politics.
Rabbi Latz: ‘Hatred serves as a reminder to the community that our work is never done.’
Right now, we’ve got a bill before our state legislature to ban conversion therapy and this must be passed into law.
This self-styled “treatment” emanates from hacks and frauds who purport to be able to convince gay people that they can be heterosexual – and generally involves watching a lot of straight pornography.
Nevertheless, I would argue that the rise of Trump – and the white supremacists, racists and homophobes that he inspires – is not reflective of a society travelling in reverse.
Rather, it is the last gasps of a small, vocal and violent minority who realise that they cannot win.
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However, their hatred also serves as an important reminder to the LGBT+ community that our work is never done.
As a man of faith, I remain optimistic that love and acceptance will overcome intolerance. But I am also acutely aware that in an age of social media echo chambers, these words can easily become meaningless platitudes.
Whether it is fighting gay convergence therapy or striving for quality mental health counselling for LGBT+ people, only by reaching out across the margins and challenging people’s misconceptions will we move closer to acceptance as one.
Rabbi Latz will be speaking at a seminar entitled ‘Faith, Poverty and Peace’ at the RISING Global Peace Forum, a partnership between Coventry University, represented by the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry Cathedral and Coventry City Council.
The forum will be held at Coventry Cathedral from November 13 to 15 and is free to attend.
Click here for more information and to register to attend.