Swastikas Terrorize Fla. PFLAG Activist

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday June 22, 2009

Following the publication of a newspaper article on faith, acceptance, and the need to strengthen families and social bonds by rejecting homophobia and persecution, a Jewish PFLAG chairperson found her garage vandalized--with swastikas.

Ruth Dorfman, 64, is the Chair of the PFLAG Interfaith Convocation in Naples, Florida. In a May 8 op-ed for the Naples Daily News titled "Does God Hate?," Dorfman wrote, "As a person of faith, I am disappointed when some people try to use God and a handful of isolated words from the Bible as a weapon to separate gay and lesbian children from their faith and even from their families."

Dorfman addressed the need for acceptance and inclusion of families and their children, regretting not only Biblically-based discrimination but also that, "In an ever changing, highly mobile society, we are unfortunately seeing greater instability, less personal interaction, and heightened loneliness and isolation."

Wrote Dorfman, "We must do more to nurture our children and strengthen the family and encourage faith and belonging," adding, "I have been too often confronted with people who use religion to divide and stigmatize people. I became active in PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) to make an effort to unite and educate people that faith and homosexuality are not incompatible."

Dorfman referenced a documentary titled, "For the Bible Tells Me So," which takes faith-based persecution of gays and lesbians as its theme. The documentary, noted Dorfman, "utilizes the experience of five normal religious American families to show their faith and beliefs, encourage and require their love for their homosexual children.

"Highlighted in the film were former House majority leader Richard Gephardt and his wife Jane," Dorfman continued, noting of Gephardt, "While reiterating that God and religion are all about love, he quoted Archbishop Desmond Tutu: 'It is incomprehensible that God would hate anyone for being black, a woman, or homosexual.'"

Added Dorfman, "Gephardt stressed that we must challenge anyone who perpetuates the myth that being gay is a choice. No one would choose such a difficult path. Homosexuality is an inherent and immutable identity, not a choice."

Paraphrasing the Biblical Book of Psalms, Dorfman went on to write, "Behold how good and how pleasant it is when people dwell together in unity," adding that the GLBT advocacy group Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) "has created an Interfaith convocation remembering that unity requires us as believers to include everyone."

Dorfman then invited readers to attend the convocation, providing the date, place, and time.

But vandals responded to the invitation by paying a visit to Dorfman's home--and vandalizing her garage door.

On June 16, Dorfman, who uses a wheelchair and oxygen, went out to collect her morning paper and found that two swastikas had been painted on her garage. Just to make sure Dorfman knew the reason why, the vandals also affixed clippings of her newspaper op-ed to the garage.

It was a shocking response to an article that had been written in a spirit of openness.

Months earlier, Web-based religious anti-gay media outlets had lit up the Internet with articles about how gay protesters, in response to California voters' approval of Proposition 8, which revoked existing marriage rights for gay and lesbian families, had subjected religious people and houses of worship to acts of vandalism (predominantly incidents of name-calling, spray painting and other, mostly minor property damage).

Although the vast majority of anti-Prop. 8 protests were entirely peaceful, the anti-gay sites pointed to such incidents as proof positive that gays and lesbians were "violent" and "anti-Christian."

The response in Naples to vandals targeting an older Jewish woman with health issues by spray painting an infamous Nazi symbol on her garage was met with an equally prompt and vigorous response. The community rallied with a candlelight vigil, and the Naples Daily News published an immediate condemnation of the vandals' activities.

"Unacceptable," the Naples Daily News wrote in a June 16 op-ed.

"Our community is smarter than that," the newspaper declared.

"Our community is bigger than that.

"Our community is stronger than that.

"That damage done to Dorfman's garage door does not reflect our community's standards," the newspaper addeded.

Local clergy agreed, stating, ""We call upon people of good will to join us in rejecting hate.

"We call upon people of whatever faith tradition or no faith tradition to speak against intolerance and to reject bigotry in whatever form.

"We say it clearly: in the faith traditions we represent, all people are God's children."

Readers also contributed letters to the editor responding to the incident, which the paper printed on June 18. Even those who found gays and lesbians to be "repugnant" decried the vandalism.

Wrote one reader, "The destruction of Ruth Dorfman's personal property is no way to disagree with her politics."

Calling the vandals "cowards," the writer added, "Some people are just stupid when they do things like this.

"It certainly does not help persuade anyone to change their stance on any given subject. It only makes the perpetrator look like a fool."

The writer noted, "I do not agree with Dorfman's glorification of the gay/lesbian lifestyle, either. It is repugnant to me, and speaking out is still legal.

"As she says, 'There is nothing you can't talk about.'"

Another who wrote in stated, "The sad and sick attackers of Ruth Dorfman need help. They need prayers. They need to understand they have been misled into believing God hates anyone or anything.

"They also need to understand such attacks are unwanted in this community."

Added the writer, "Dorfman's gentle and persistent campaign for human dignity and understanding has touched many lives and changed many hearts.

"She deserves hero status in our community. She does not deserve the attack she suffered overnight Monday at the hands of those who chose ignorance and violence over the love reflected by the God they so egregiously claimed to represent.

Added the letter's author, "While we are called to welcome the stranger, we are not called to welcome the violent. We are called to help them find the way to peace."

A coalition of community leaders, including the heads of local chapters of PFLAG, Planned Parenthood, and the Jewish Federation, wrote in to say, "We call upon every segment of this community to publicly oppose any efforts to demean and diminish the dignity of our fellow human beings.

"The fact that one religious group, a single political party and gay and lesbian citizens were singled out in this attack is sickening.

"This was an attack on everything that makes our nation and our community great.

Florida Commission on Human Relations member Mario Valle wrote the newspaper to observe, "I know firsthand that this incident is neither isolated nor unique. Around the nation, individuals are being terrorized because of their sex, religion, race, disabilities, beliefs and a myriad of other things.

"In our own state, there are over 56 documented hate groups, which ranks Florida third in the nation.

"This is not a Florida fact that we are in any way proud of," Commissioner Valle went on.

"Hate and discrimination tear at the fabric of our communities by decreasing the quality of life for all and breeding fear and mistrust.

"I invite everyone to work with local and state anti-hate agencies to seek solutions for these issues that are plaguing our state, and our very own community.

Added the commissioner, "We must band together to send the message that hateful behavior has no place in our neighborhoods. Please visit our Web site at http://fchr.state.fl.us or call (850) 488-7082 for more information on the commission."

One individual wrote in to report on that the convocation Dorfman's op-ed had invited readers to attend, noting that, "At times like this, when swastikas and hateful sayings appear overnight on people's garages, it's important to remember that not everyone hates.

"Some nonreligious people hate; some do not.

"Some religions teach hatred of people who are bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgendered or transsexual; some do not.

"Some religions believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person and teach that people of all sexual orientations and gender identities should be treated with respect.

"Those religions also promote acceptance, inclusion, understanding, and equity for BGLT persons of all colors, races and ethnicities--both within their religion and in society at large.

"Those are the religions that participated in the PFLAG Interfaith Convocation.

The convocation was a moving, life-affirming event. Ruth Dorfman wrote a good commentary about it. She emphasized the stories that people told-and they were indeed moving."

At the candlelight vigil, the community surrounded Dorfman with support, a www.naplesnews.com/news/2009/jun/21/protest_swastikas-gay-lesbian-naples-beach-church/ follow-up article reported.

Said the 64-year-old Dorfman, "I was so frightened, so shaken" by the incident of vandalism.

"I didn't want to come out here tonight. I didn't want to leave the safety of my house, but if I hide, then they won."

However, the attendance of more than 100 Naples residents at the vigil offered Dorfman reassurance: "It means that I'm not alone.

"I just feel so loved," Dorfman added

"It reminds me of a Perry Como song that goes something like, 'When you close your eyes and go to sleep, count your blessings instead of sheep.'"

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.