Head of Jewish LGBTQ group condemns attack at gay nightclub

June 13, 2016

By Amanda Borschel-Dan

The Times of Israel: The Jewish world's fastest-growing news site


Image of Idit Klein speaking at a podium.

In this file photo, Idit Klein, executive director of the Boston-based Keshet for LGBTQ Jews and their allies, addresses up to 200 attendees at a Memorial and Solidarity Gathering at Boston’s Temple Israel on September 9, 2015
(Elan Kawesch/The Times of Israel)

The first calls and emails Idit Klein received after hearing the news of the horrific attack that killed at least 50 at an Orlando gay bar on June 12 were from Muslim leaders expressing their sorrow and solidarity.

“Within a very short time of news breaking about the attack, colleagues in the Muslim community reached out to say, ‘Our hearts are with you, our prayers are with you. What can we do to express our solidarity?’” said Klein.

Since 2001, Klein has served as executive director of Keshet, a Boston-based national non- profit organization with a $2m. annual budget that works in some 200 communities for LGBTQ equality and inclusion in Jewish life.

On Sunday, jihadist terror group Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in Florida committed by a gunman identified as Omar Mateen, a US citizen born to Afghan parents.

According to a statement on the IS-linked Amaq news agency, the organization claimed: “The attack that targeted a nightclub for homosexuals in Orlando, Florida and that left more than 100 dead and wounded was carried out by an Islamic State fighter.”

For Klein, the immediate condemnation by American Muslim leaders is “historically important.”

Among the many Muslim voices, the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Florida) released a statement shortly after the attack condemning the killings.

“We condemn this monstrous attack and offer our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of all those killed or injured,” said CAIR-Florida’s Orlando Regional Coordinator Rasha Mubarak. “The Muslim community joins our fellow Americans in repudiating anyone or any group that would claim to justify or excuse such an appalling act of violence.”

Klein said that although some “courageous leaders” have pushed their community, Islam is not known to be progressive on LGBTQ issues. The widespread condemnation of the massive attack which targeted the gay community is “a reason to feel some hope even in this time of sadness.

Image of Idit Klein wearing a blue shirt and smiling.

Idit Klein, executive director of Keshet, a Boston-based national that works in some 200 communities for LGBTQ equality and inclusion in Jewish life. (courtesy)

Idit Klein, executive director of Keshet, a Boston-based national that works in some 200 communities for LGBTQ equality and inclusion in Jewish life. (courtesy)

“In this country and many countries around the world, historically leaders of faith communities have acted in opposition to the gay community,” she said. “It is particularly vital for people to hear that there are Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders who say this is horrific and anathema to our religion.”

The attack came in the midst of international celebrations for Gay Pride Month, which is celebrated in June. Klein said it is “particularly awful for it to happen during pride month when the community is celebrating feeling free and a sense of ease in the world.”

In an email to Keshet supporters on Sunday, Klein wrote, “Yesterday, like many others in our community this month, I marched in a Pride Parade. The day began with the cheers of the crowd, the release of rainbow confetti, and a group of 50 LGBTQ and ally Jews marching with Keshet in Boston. Midway through the parade, an 11-year-old, there with his sister and two dads, turned to me and shared, “I’ve never felt so safe walking down the road before.”

Image of a Tel Aviv Pride Parade filled with lots of people.

Participants take to the streets of Tel Aviv for the annual Gay Pride Parade in Tel Aviv, on June 3, 2016. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel staff)

Noting the positive change she has seen in her lifetime, Klein, 43, suggests Sunday’s attack will be seen as an aberration in the history of the gay rights movement. “I do [see a brighter future]. I do feel hopeful and optimistic.”

“Sadly, I would imagine that the horrific nature of the attack and the number of deaths will, I think, catalyze a lot of compassion, even among those who don’t support full civil rights,” said Klein. For the gay community, like other social change movements, “it’s a long, long journey to full freedom.”

Klein is equally troubled by the prospect of a backlash against the American Muslim community — those who reached out first upon hearing the news Sunday morning. This is an election year which has seen a December 2015 call from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for a “total and complete shutdown” on Muslim immigration. The attack, fears Klein, “will inflame the very vicious rhetoric we’ve been hearing regarding Muslims and the Muslim community.