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They’re ba-aack…

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Members of the Westboro Baptist Church engaging in Hate

I’m not gay. That’s always been a bit of a sticking point in my involvement in the gay rights movement, and in the HIV/AIDS arena, which date back to the mid-1980s. There were lots of times when I was the only straight person in the room. My fellow volunteers were cordial, but the unspoken question in their eyes often was: What is she doing here?

My family didn’t really understand, either. So I asked my father, who’s a refugee from Nazi Germany, if he remembered the German Lutheran minister who lamented that during the Holocaust, he didn’t speak out when the Nazis went after Jews, communists and trade unionists, because he was none of those things—so when the Nazis came for him, there was no one left to speak up for him.  Supporting gay rights was my way of speaking up, my way of keeping the promise of “Never Again.”

I have always felt that, just as much as Jews, gays and lesbians long have served as the “canary in the mine,” used to test the air for what society will tolerate. In an age where it’s (finally!) socially unacceptable to treat people differently because of the color of their skin, it seems to me that in some circles—and often, in the same circles—Jews are still iffy, and sexual orientation is still fair game. The pink triangle and the yellow star are inextricably bound together.

Now comes news that the Westboro Baptist Church is re-directing its energies from bashing gays to bashing Jews.  These are the Topeka-based slimebags who show up at funerals bearing signs with inspiring sentiments such as “God Hates Fags.” They started with the funerals of people who were gay, but then picketed any funeral likely to garner news coverage (think: U.S. soldiers killed in action, schoolgirls killed in a bus accident, etc).

It seems Pastor Fred Phelps and crew are bored with gays, and last week began rallying against Jewish community institutions in Washington, DC.

Their new message: “Jews Killed the Lord Jesus.”

Lesson: If bigotry against gays is allowed to go unchecked, then bigotry against others will follow. And sometimes, those others will be us.

Linda Cohen is a Diet Coke fanatic who lives in suburbia with her family and two psychotic cats. Linda also is a longtime HIV/AIDS activist who heads up marketing communications for JUF. Her favorite book is The Lone Pilgrim by Laurie Colwin, and she is addicted to “Top Chef” and “Iron Chef America.” She currently is having an affair with Jon Stewart.

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Remembering Matt Lash

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Lauren Toppel, one of the Lash Bash organizers with Matt’s mom, Roberta

Last July, I wrote A Tribute to Matt, an article that celebrated the life of Matt Lash, a 2007 graduate of Chicago-Kent College of Law. Matt died April 30, 2008 at age 27 after a seven and a half year battle with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. As I wrote a little over a year ago, though he only lived in Chicago for a short time, Matt left a lasting mark on the people he met here, both through law school and his Birthright Israel trip.

Last year, a group of Matt’s law school friends initiated the Matthew Louis Lash Scholarship Fund at Kent in his memory, to be awarded to a student facing health challenges. Marking the one-year anniversary of his death, Matt’s family, friends and classmates, including Lauren Toppel, Laura Potter and Ben Panter, organized the “Lash Bash,” held April 25 at Grand Central in Lincoln Park to raise funds for the scholarship. Over 150 people attended the event, adding $8,000 to the ongoing effort to fully fund the Matt Lash Scholarship.

Even though I never met Matt, after talking to his mom, Roberta, and learning all about his life, it feels like I knew him—or at least I wish I had. So, I went to the Lash Bash, and the love and support that filled the bar that night was palpable and overwhelming. In just 27 short years, Matt was able to become the kind of person who touched and motivated people, who made an impact and a difference in people’s lives. I left the bar that night wondering if I would ever become even half the person that Matt was—he certainly inspired me to try.

For more information, visit http://www.kentlaw.edu/depts/alums/enews/index.html 

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