In the 1920s, Germany was one of the most accepting places for LGBT people in the modern world. LGBT Germans in Berlin were an open part of society, with theaters, nightclubs, professional societies and more than 30 periodicals devoted to LGBT life. Transgender Germans were successfully advocating for their civil rights, and in 1931, the first gender confirmation surgery took place in Berlin. By 1933, the Nazis had come to power, and all known homosexuals were rounded up, tortured and placed in camps with 6 million Jews and other minorities — most died there.
The last 10 years have brought us unprecedented gains in civil rights for LGBT people. Gay marriage is now legal in 22 countries including the United States — something many of us thought we would never see in our life times.
We believe the arc of history bends toward justice — but as Jewish gay men, we also know the arc twists and sometime bends back on itself before finally moving forward. Our families and community still carry the weight of the Holocaust. We grew up hearing the stories from relatives who witnessed firsthand the horrors of a state determined to exterminate its people.
By now, you have heard reports of the brutal persecution of queer men in the Russian republic of Chechnya. In the last month, hundreds of Chechen men have been arrested by authorities, tortured and in some cases killed.
Totalitarianism and nationalism, those twin scourges of the last century, are again on the march, and Chechnya is plainly in their path. Dictators have always thrived by pitting the fearful against the weak. In 2013, the Russian parliament unanimously passed a series of anti-gay laws, launching a campaign of harassment against LGBT people to distract the Russian people from their weakened economy.
And its not just Russia: In many parts of Africa and the Middle East, LGBT men and women are routinely executed for their sexual orientation or gender identity. While the methods vary — in Iran they are hanged, in Somalia they are shot, in the lands controlled by ISIS they are thrown off buildings — the horrific results are the same.
Here in the United States, queer people are subjected to shocking levels of violence. Since Donald Trump ascended to the White House, reports of hate crimes against Mexicans, Muslims and members of the LGBT communities have grown exponentially. Trans women — and especially trans women of color — face extraordinary danger here in the United States with brutal, and too often unsolved, murders happening almost monthly. Last year overtook 2015 as the deadliest year on record for transgender women, and 2017 is on track to be even deadlier still.
Even in San Francisco, arguably the queerest and most progressive city in the U.S., LGBT people face violence and abuse. According to a study conducted by the San Francisco LGBT Community Center last year, nearly 70 percent of LGBT people in San Francisco have experienced physical violence, 48 percent have been the victim of sexual violence and 81 percent have been harassed for being LGBT.
We can’t remain silent as a rising tide of anti-LGBT violence threatens us all.
We need to continue to elect LGBT officials to every level of government to defend our rights. We need to organize against the conservative and reactionary forces of the world that want to eliminate us. We need to make sure resources are going to the most vulnerable among us including trans people, youth and immigrants. And we need to speak out in outrage any time a member of our communities is assaulted or killed; a crime against one of us remains a crime against all of us.
Violence against LGBT people cannot go unanswered. And history cannot be allowed to repeat.
Mark Leno previously represented District 11 in the California State Senate and District 8 on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Scott Wiener represents District 11 in the California State Senate and previously represented District 8 on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Rafael Mandelman sits on the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees.