Martyrs of Our People

Some days have passed since the funeral of Matthew Shepard, days in which Americans everywhere have spent searching our souls. Matthew Shepard was a Christian, his funeral conducted in the church where he had once served as an acolyte. We, as Jews and Americans, also find ourselves this week searching for answers and responsibility. As Gay men, Lesbians, and rabbis, we have not found helpful the words of those who would universalize this death, seeing in it an example of all murders of innocent victims. We know only too well that Matthew Shepard was singled out for this horrific murder because he was Gay.

When Jews gather to pray, we include a prayer of mourning: mourning for those among our friends, family and community who have died recently and, often, mourning for those we consider the martyrs of our people. These were Jews who were killed simply because they were Jews, centuries ago and in our own time. For Gay and Lesbian rabbis, leading our communities in prayer this week, the phrase "martyrs of our people" leapt off the page of our prayer books as we pondered Matthew Shepard's death. For in the hearts of Gay and Lesbian Americans, Matthew Shepard is surely a martyr of our people. His death calls to mind the too-many other, less-publicized Gay men and Lesbians murdered just because they were Gay or Lesbian: martyrs all. We respond with tears and outrage, and search desperately for ways to respond.

Of course hate crimes legislation must be passed in states and at the federal level. But laws against hate crimes respond to crimes already committed. We urge responses that make it clear that it is unacceptable to vilify Gay and Lesbian Americans in speech or print, responses that embrace many ways of life and love. Therefore, we urge religious organizations across the country to reconsider their stances toward Gay members, Gay clergy and Gay marriage, and schools everywhere to include literature for and about Gay men and Lesbians in their curricula. Where else but in schools and houses of worship do children and adults absorb information and values? They - we - must lead the way in declaring that Gay men and Lesbians are first and foremost human beings to be respected as are all human beings. Then only, will it become increasingly difficult for anyone to imagine that harassing or beating or killing a homosexual person is heroic, desirable or even excusable.

We pray that never again will we be leading prayers of mourning for someone killed because of who he was or who she loved. We do not want to have to mourn for Jews killed as Jews. Nor do we want to have to mourn for people killed because of their religion, politics, race or sexual orientation. Neither do we as Jews and homosexuals as well as rabbis wish to be the next victims of such acts of terror. Few people seek to become martyrs. Surely Matthew Shepard did not. If we can imagine any good coming from his murder, let it be the good of change.

Submitted by the GLRN - Gay and Lesbian Rabbinic Network representing over 30 Gay and Lesbian Rabbis throughout the United States including -

Rabbi Karen Bender
Rabbi Allen B. Bennett
Rabbi Leslie Bergson
Rabbi Marc S. Blumenthal
Rabbi Sandy Bogin
Rabbi Lisa Edwards
Rabbi Denise Eger
Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell
Rabbi Joan S. Friedman
Rabbi Yoel Kahn
Rabbi Greg Kanter
Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum
Rabbi Valerie Lieber
Rabbi Charles D. Lippman
Rabbi Ellen R. Lippman
Rabbi Jane Litman
Rabbi Eric Weiss
Rabbi Margaret Moers Wenig
Rabbi Nancy H. Wiener

Web publication of this document provided by the Interfaith Working Group Online