PITTSBURGH — On October 27, 2018 the world was shocked by the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. But in the wake of the outpouring of love and support for the Jewish community, there was born a new initiative to elevate all oppressed communities.
“I think social justice is an equal opportunity for everyone no matter what race or religion or sexual orientation etc. to achieve the American dream,” said Josh Sayles of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
This idea took shape in the newly formed 412 Black Jewish Collaborative that aims to address social injustice and gained momentum after the death of George Floyd, an African American man who was killed while in police custody.
Sayles pointed to other recent events that anecdotally suggest minorities have been targeted at an increasing rate.
“The shooting Sikh community in Wisconsin, the LGBT nightclub in Orlando. the black church in Charleston, South Carolina, the Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas,” he said. “It could have and has happened to almost every minority community. I think it’s a shock that it happened in Pittsburgh, just because it’s home. It’s home for all of us.”
The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh has outreach programs with several minority groups including the LGBTQ community, which has also seen discrimination and outright hate.
Dr. Rachel Levine is Pennsylvania’s health secretary and she’s also a trans woman. Levine has been a target on social media sites, being openly mocked even as she directs the states coronavirus response.
For Ciora Thomas of SisTers Pgh, a transgender centered resource center, that’s not even shocking.
“This is something myself my community and Dr Levine have experienced all of our lives,” Thomas said. “We are still not counted in the census as a transgender community.”
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In the LGBTQ community there’s still an uphill battle for equality
The 2020 Census created a box to write down racial origins, but for gender it is still binary. There are two choices: male or female.
Thomas said that, as an the LGBTQ individual, it sends the message that she doesn’t exist in the world.
Other minorities find the road to opportunity is tilted against them, no matter their credentials or level of education.
Melanie Marie Boyer, the director of the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said she can cite specific examples of implicit bias.
She told the story of a successful Latina woman who owns a tech company with Fortune 100 clients that rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars, but still can’t compete in a space for capital.
“When we look at the studies and we look at the numbers, there is no reason that 87% of all angel investing should go to white males,” Boyer said.
Things will only begin to change by having conversations about social justice and equity Boyer said.
“It starts with our children and teaching them about equality and that you know, you and I and the next person, all of our ideas are equal, and that we should all be given an equal opportunity to make the world a better place for everyone,” Boyer said.