Our duty to accept each other
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Our duty to accept each other

Michael Wildes, right, with members and support staff of the Englewood police department.
Michael Wildes, right, with members and support staff of the Englewood police department.

I recently had the honor of raising a flag in honor of Pride Month in my hometown of Englewood. It was one of many events across the county where family, friends, and neighbors came together in the celebration of a value that we all share — love.

Pride celebrates the achievements of the LGBTQ community and invites all of us to consider how far we have come as a nation and the journey that still remains. Pride events ask us to consider the often-lonely fight against intolerance and discrimination, reminding us that acceptance and diversity are truly the qualities that make America great.

On May 31, 2016, President Barack Obama proclaimed June to be Pride month, and it so happens that this year marks the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, which propelled the gay rights movement forward and was a turning point of sorts for LGBTQ acceptance in America. It was a struggle that unfolded on busy streets and in quiet homes, in raucous rallies and austere courtrooms. Across countless flickering screens we watched as private lives became public policy.

Throughout our nation’s history, long before Marsha P. Johnson threw the first brick at the Stonewall Inn on June 27, 1969, the LGBTQ community struggled with hatred and hardship. The riots that followed were a response to the persecution and violence that kept countless men and women closeted, fearful of the consequences that would follow simply for living their lives honestly and without malice.

Even after Stonewall and the resulting achievements, like the decriminalization of homosexuality and the enactment of laws to protect people regardless of their sexual orientation or sexual identity, the LGBTQ community faced incredible adversity. The community battled the AIDS epidemic and a government initially indifferent to the dire need for treatment and a cure. Its members challenged Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell because it institutionalized discrimination and marginalization. They stood strong in the face of public contempt, which claimed the lives of innocent young victims like Matthew Shepard, Brandon Teena, and Sakia Gunn. And in what has forever redefined true equality, they fought for — and won — the right for everyone to marry and be recognized as equal under the law.

As a person of faith, the principles of compassion and acceptance have been fundamental to my understanding of the world, consistent refrains in the lessons I learned from my rabbis, family, and community. In my professional life as an immigration attorney, I have seen those concepts tested under the law. Countless articles have been written criticizing the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (and I would know — I’ve written a few of them), but to the service’s credit, it was prepared to support same-sex marriage even before the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down in 2013. Moreover, recent affirmative asylum decisions handed down by immigration courts around the country show a growing understanding of the humanitarian issues faced by members of the LGBTQ community around the world, and the need to protect those most at risk from persecution.

America is many things, but at our core we are a collection of people who respect and seek out love. As we evolve as a nation, we must continue to build upon the successes of earlier generations, who fought so we could be free to worship, to love, and to live freely and without fear. We also must be prepared to extend this acceptance to those outside our shores, welcoming in those who might face abuse and even death for no other crime than being true to themselves.

Regardless of the flag that is flying or the month of the year, we have a duty to accept each other. If we can do that, we can all share in the pride that a courageous few fought for — a fight that continues to this day.

Michael Wildes is the mayor of Englewood, a member of Congregation Ahavath Torah there, and the author of “Safe Haven in America: Battles to Open the Golden Door.” He is a former federal prosecutor and an adjunct professor of immigration law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

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