By Jonathan Greenblatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League
This blog originally appeared on Medium
The assault on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Orlando last weekend that left 49 dead and more than 50 wounded in its wake was in many ways unprecedented and, in many others, far too familiar. It was the deadliest mass public shooting in American history. And it shattered sacred moments of multiple communities.
First and foremost, it violated Pride Month, designated as the time of year when LGBT people and their allies can celebrate their difference. The violence occurred during the weekend when we marked the Jewish festival of Shavuot — the culmination of a 49-day count between our festival of liberation from slavery in Egypt and the moment when the Jews remember receiving the wisdom of our holy Torah at Mount Sinai. And the attack tore at the peace of Ramadan, when Muslims seek to be closer to God and to focus on their inner selves.
All of the Abrahamic religions are rooted in texts that pave the way to peace. It is in these times that we must find those strands of faith which bind us together. Already, many faith communities have come together in cities across the country, united in grief, standing in solidarity with the LGBT community, and looking for answers as to how a lone gunman with hatred in his heart could wreak such devastation.
But even in this moment, we must take note that it is not just in this country where the LGBT community is at risk. Across the globe, LGBT people face persecution, legalized discrimination, and the threat of both state-sanctioned violence and brutality at the hands of non-state actors.
Across the globe, LGBT people face persecution, legalized discrimination, and the threat of both state-sanctioned violence and brutality at the hands of non-state actors.
We have seen the members of the Islamic State terrorist group (ISIS) literally throw individuals from rooftops, simply for being suspected of the “crime” of being gay. Hamas executes individuals without trial for the same “offense.”The Islamic Republic of Iran also has been known to hang young men suspected of homosexuality.
The violence in Orlando and the elevated risk of violence that LGBT people face around the world cannot be separated. There is some debate about the motives of the gunman, Omar Mateen. During the crime, he claimed allegiance to ISIS and his apparent homophobia is consistent with their bigoted teachings. At the same time, some have claimed he was wrestling with his own repressed sexual identity.
Whatever the cause, according to the U.S. Office for Refugee Resettlement, an estimated 3,500 LGBT refugees land on our shores every year, seeking to escape torment in their homelands. This also is true of the millions of Muslims fleeing the brutality tearing apart their homelands, such as the civil war in Syria or the destruction of Iraq. They are not alone — we also see other embattled minorities, including Christians from the Middle East and abused women from around the world coming to our shores, seeking refuge from violence and oppression.
As we pause and consider World Refugee Day, our common humanity and Jewish values compel us to hear their cries and embrace these victims.
The notions espoused by certain public figures of refusing refuge to the downtrodden, or rejecting widows and children at our borders simply because of the sins of a handful of their co-religionists, is not a policy. It’s a travesty, an affront to all notions of decency. We can do better on behalf of those who have lost everything.
To date, the trickle of such refugees permitted entry into this country pales in comparison to the scores of millions who come to our shores every year through business and tourism visas. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Stateapproved 10.8 million nonimmigrant travel visas, as compared to 531,463 immigrant visas.
Nonetheless, we should strengthen the screening processes to ensure that those who come to our shores are legitimate refugees who need our support. And individuals hailing from illiberal democracies undoubtedly need education and integration to mainstream them into our liberal democracy to ensure they embrace and understand our civic culture and common values.
On this day, as we acknowledge and elevate the plight of refugees around the world, let us root our work in chesed, the Jewish value of benevolence and compassion. Let us remind ourselves that we were once strangers, as we are told in the Torah and as we have experienced throughout history.
Let us remind ourselves that we were once strangers, as we are told in the Torah and as we have experienced throughout history.
We can anchor this approach in the enduring words of Emma Lazarus, inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor; Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free….” And we can galvanize this commitment by reclaiming what the terrorist attempted to take from us in Orlando — our common humanity.