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Pride, Prejudice and Progress

PrideFest

Members of the Jewish community walk down Market Street downtown on Sunday as part of PrideFest and its Grand Pride Parade. Photo: Philip Deitch

Once again, the Jewish community of St. Louis was a major participant on several levels in this year’s PrideFest, which began with numerous Pride Shabbat programs and continued at events and parades throughout last weekend, including participation by roughly two dozen local synagogues and Jewish organizations.

The St. Louis Jewish community, always in the vanguard of movements to increase diversity and support for civil rights and civil liberties, has a proud history of coming together as a community to support LGBTQ rights, not just during PrideFest but throughout the year.

This year’s PrideFest and parade, which drew thousands  Sunday, took on added significance because it coincided with the 50th anniversary of the historic rebellion against police brutality by patrons of the Stonewall Inn, a popular gathering place for New York’s LGBTQ community. 

When New York police stormed the tavern to make arbitrary arrests, rough up customers, and beat and steal from them, patrons decided they had enough and were not going to take it any more. They pushed back against the raid and ultimately triumphed.

Stonewall has rightly been compared with Seneca Falls for the women’s rights movement and Selma for the African-American civil rights movement. The symbolic victory at Stonewall made restaurants and bars that were friendly to LBGTQ communities safer for their customers in St. Louis and nationwide.

That said, there’s much more work that needs to be done to ensure the rights and liberties of the LBGTQ in St. Louis and elsewhere. The transgender community in particular continues to face discrimination and brutality, the upshot of which led to a dust-up locally over whether police and firefighters should be allowed to take part in the Pride Parade in uniform.

At first, police were told they could march but not in uniform; that decision was wisely reversed. While homophobic and rogue cops no doubt are working locally, there are also gay, lesbian and trans people in public safety departments, and they should be welcome at such marches. Ultimately, building bridges accomplishes more than burning them.

St. Louis PrideFest was not affected by disputes over whether participants could wear Stars of David or other Jewish symbols in the marches. In other cities, LGBTQ marchers were told they could not wear such symbols in parades. Such exclusionary rules are not consistent with the goals of diversity and inclusion that are the hallmarks of PrideFest and all of its activities. Indeed, one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world is Tel Aviv, which each year has a major Pride Parade; this year more than 200,000 people participated.

The Jewish Light is proud that years ago, we became one of the first Jewish newspapers in North America to publish LGBTQ birth, engagement and wedding announcements in our Simcha section. The policy change brought a strong objection from a group of Orthodox rabbis. But over the years, the practice has ceased to be a matter of contention in the overall community.

The current state of LGBTQ rights could rightly be termed pride, prejudice and progress. While we should embrace the advances that have been made, no one should rest until the issue of whom one chooses to love is no longer the target of hate groups or violence.  

In 1969, when the Stonewall rebellion took place, homosexual activity often was a crime; now, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex marriages must be accepted under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and recognized even in states where the practice is still barred by statute.

We applaud all of the Jewish groups, synagogues, temples and organizations for their leadership, not only in PrideFest but in ongoing efforts to secure the rights and privileges of all citizens regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation. The Jewish community locally, nationally and globally will continue to be a Pillar of Pride.

As we celebrate Independence Day this week, we should rededicate ourselves to the ideals of liberty and justice for all, not just on July 4 but every day of the year.