Rabbi Dan Fink unapologetically linked Sunday morning’s massacre in Orlando to the fate of Steven Nelson, a gay Nampa man who was beaten to death in late April, and Idaho’s refusal to fully embrace its own gay and transgender people.
Fink, who leads Boise’s Ahaveth Beth Israel congregation, said horrific treatment of gays by Islamic groups such as ISIS is driven by the same intolerance that’s behind the Idaho Legislature’s refusal to prohibit discrimination against people for reasons of sexual orientation or gender identity.
“There is a direct nexus between that ideology and those here in our own nation, state and city who refuse to recognize the full equality of all Americans,” Fink said. “My friends, to believe that last night’s events are unconnected to the death of Steven Nelson right here in our backyard is to be at best woefully ignorant, and at worst, profoundly evil.”
Fink, a longtime gay rights advocate, spoke Sunday evening at a hastily arranged vigil for the victims of Omar Mateen’s early morning attack on Pulse, a night club in Orlando. He was one of several speakers who used the event on the Capitol steps to plead for protections of gay and transgender persons in the Idaho Human Rights Act.
We want to refrain from hastily politicizing the tragedy. And at the same time we know that, standing here on the steps of our state Capitol, events do not unfold in a political vacuum. That to be silent, to be apolitical in the face of tragedy is also a kind of political act.
Rabbi Dan Fink
A stunned crowd of about 200 took it in, applauding periodically. It was the second vigil of the day in Boise. Earlier, about 70 people gathered on the Capitol steps in response to the mass murders. Renee McCall, pastor of Boise’s Liberating Spirit Metropolitan Community Church, and Cherie Buckner-Webb, a Democratic state senator representing Boise’s North End, spoke.
Chelsea Gaona-Lincoln, who helped put together Sunday night’s event, said fear gripped the gay and transgender community in the Treasure Valley after news of the Orlando shooting spread. She saw the evidence in online posts and comments by people she knows.
“A friend who works with the Human Rights campaign said, ‘We’ve got to take care of each other, look out for each other. Also, have exit plans for your pride activities,’” Gaona-Lincoln said. “And just letting that sink in and thinking that we need to have exit plans for a festival, for something that’s a celebration. That’s gut-wrenching. It’s disheartening. It’s disappointing.”
In another sign of that fear, Boise police officers standing guard at the vigil received several rounds of applause from people in attendance.
Gaona-Lincoln said she wanted to know more from authorities’ investigation of the Orlando shooting before saying it was a hate crime. She acknowledged that it could have happened at a straight night club, or any other public place for that matter.
“But it can’t help but hit so close to home, considering we have establishments here that are known as being gay- and trans-friendly,” she said. “It feels hateful. What else could have spurred it but hate?”
Gaona-Lincoln said people in the Treasure Valley’s LGBT community feel like they’re targets every time they leave their homes. Like Fink, she drew parallels to today’s political scene. She wondered if overt hate coming from political dialogue empowers people to commit crimes like “this heinous act.”
Regardless of the tragic reason that we've all gathered today, your coming down here, showing your support, shows not just me but people all around Idaho and our country that although attacks are happening and although we have a lot of work left to do, we're here and not going to give up.
Jordan Brady, research director for
Fink implored people not to let horrors like Mateen’s attack drag them into the kind of fight America can only lose.
“We, all of us, must be better than our enemies,” he said. “More tolerant. More loving. More open. Because that is, in the end, the only way to beat them. Let us lead the way, then.”