LGBT issues discussed at Holocaust Memorial Center

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published March 13, 2014

 Holocaust Memorial Center Executive Director Stephen Goldman introduces a panel during an LGBT discussion March 5.

Holocaust Memorial Center Executive Director Stephen Goldman introduces a panel during an LGBT discussion March 5.

Photo by Donna Agusti

FARMINGTON HILLS — Anti-gay bills in places such as Uganda and Nigeria, though they’re  halfway around the world, were discussed during a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender panel discussion March 5 at the Holocaust Memorial Center, 28123 Orchard Lake Road.

“We feel part of this world, and we want to see what is going on with the rest of the world,” Jay Kaplan, LGBT staff attorney of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said during the event.

During the discussion, Kaplan and panelists David Koelsch — director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law — and Thomas Rogers — program assistant and case manager at Freedom House Detroit — talked about national and international topics in the LGBT community.

The panel and attendees also discussed similarities between unfair treatment of Jews with the LGBT community.

“Replacing the word ‘Jew’ with ‘homosexual’ (is) not the first time we’ve heard it,” museum Executive Director Steve Goldman said during the event.

He explained why.

“The context was Russia’s condemnation and discrimination against LGBT persons in a way that reflects the Soviet Union’s discrimination against Jews in prior times,” he said. “It would appear that the discussion in Russia is not significantly different from when Jews were the targets.  So, it looks like the discussions, laws, rules and regulations are the same, replacing the word ‘Jew’ with ‘homosexual,’ i.e., same prejudice, different victim.”

In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni signed a bill Feb. 24 that could jail gay people, outlaw the promotion of homosexuality and require people to denounce gay people.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed a bill that was passed in May 2013 that contains penalties of up to 14 years in prison, and bans gay marriage, same-sex relationships and membership in gay- rights groups.

Russia, among other countries, also has anti-gay laws.

Closer to home in Michigan, Kaplan said state civil rights laws don’t include gender identity or sexual orientation, and gay couples could be denied housing, hospital treatment and even restaurant admittance.

“There is an attempt this year to get state civil rights law amended,” he said. “Probably the first time in 20 years, we think we might have a good chance of this happening.”

Koelsch said an estimated 70 countries around the world criminalize same-sex couples.

“In many countries throughout the Middle East, homosexuality is very severely punished in parts of India, even though there is a gay culture in each of these countries.”

Koelsch said Americans should lead by example and show the world that America is an inclusive society that welcomes all people.

Lawrence Willim, HMC program associate and social media manager, said after the event that people should stop making it an issue.

“In southeastern Michigan, we are a diverse community, but we are still very separated, and to see everyone come together to support is great; we are starting to build an awareness,” said Willim.

He added that a featured exhibit at the HMC, “Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-1945,” running through May 4, showcases how thousands of gay people, primarily men, died at the hands of the Nazis along with millions of Jews and others. Between 1933 and 1945, an estimated 100,000 men were arrested for homosexuality, and of those, approximately 50,000 were sentenced to prison for it; an estimated 5,000-15,000 were sent to concentration camps, where an unknown number of them died, according to www.holocaustcenter.org.

“It is great to show support and let people know that people are talking about it,” Willim said.

Attendee Tracy Agranove, of the Jewish Community Center and the Jewish Gay Network of Michigan, said it was nice to hear updates about the LGBT community.

“We need to move forward,” she said.

For more information on the Holocaust Memorial Center, visit www.holocaustcenter.org or call (248) 553-2400.