Donald Trump finally, finally spoke out against anti-semitism and hate crimes during his speech to Congress on Feb. 28, but it was far too late for many Americans, including my son. His public school had already been desecrated by swastikas.
My little town of less than 10,000 people, Hastings-on-Hudson, is a very tolerant, liberal place with a diverse community, just outside of New York City. But even here, in a place that prides itself on acceptance, we couldn’t escape the scourge of the hateful anti-semitism that has been sweeping the nation in the wake of Donald Trump’s election.
Three weeks ago, swastikas were found drawn onto computers in one of our town’s high school art rooms and on the back of a stall door in one of the bathrooms. Then, white supremacist handbills from an alt-right group called Identity Evropa which has connections to “white nationalist aka supremacist” Richard Spencer, were discovered in the woods just outside our elementary school.
Spencer famously celebrated Trump’s presidential victory at a meeting of his alt-right National Policy Institute on Nov. 21, 2016 by saluting and cheering, “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!”
The appearance of both, the swastikas and white supremacist handbills in our town, were disturbing to say the least to both my son and other students in our town, as well as to most of our residents.
Yesterday, March 2, our high school held an assembly with New York State District Attorney, Heide Mason, to talk about hate crimes, bias and cyber bullying. As well, on Feb. 11, about 100 residents held a peaceful rally challenging whoever had scribbled the swastikas and dropped the handbills, to meet them face to face. They named their rally group, RISE – Racial Inclusion & Social Equity. Naturally, the haters didn’t have the guts to show up.
It has been a far quicker and more forceful response than we have had from our new president, Donald Trump, whose campaign has been blamed for setting off a wave of racist and anti-semitic acts across the country. When Donald Trump labelled Mexican immigrants criminals and “rapists” and then, tweeted a photo of Hillary Clinton with a graphic of the Star of David juxtaposed over a pile of cash, it was apparently seen as an invite for all kinds of racist and anti-Semitics to get their hate on.
In Jan. 2017 alone, 60 bomb threats were phoned in to 48 Jewish Community Centers across the country. JCCs filled with preschools and little children! Three different Jewish cemeteries have been vandalized with 355 tombstones desecrated in the past weeks.
Donald Trump’s response… silence for months, only encouraged more of this outrageous, unAmerican behavior. When he at last used a major national forum ― his address to the joint session of Congress on Feb. 28 ― to condemn the “hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms,” it was a welcome relief, but oh so late.
Hate, discrimination, anti-semitism had already been “let out of the barn” and had been running loose. So loose, that they had already invaded even my community and schools.
Donald Trump, it’s on you. It’s also on you…and your Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, and on your new Secretary of Education — Betsy DeVos, for what now happens to transgender students since the three of you have rescinded President Obama’s federal protections allowing them to use bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity. What a narrow-minded, mean-spirited thing to do. Young people who are transgender are among the most vulnerable in our nation – 45 percent of transgender people ages 18-24 have sadly attempted suicide. That’s a staggering number.
Imagine being assigned a gender at birth, but to feel psychologically like the another gender. Well, clearly, you can’t empathize, Donald Trump, and don’t want to make the world a more accepting and more comfortable place for transgender students. You’ve just made it worse.
“Transgender young people used to feel that under President Obama, the world would keep getting better for them. Now, those hopes have turned to fears and increased feelings of instability and insecurity,” Steve Mendelsohn, the interim Executive Director of The Trevor Project, told me. The Trevor Project is a national non-profit which provides crisis and suicide intervention and counseling to LGBTQ young people.
After Trump rescinded bathroom protections for transgender people, the volume of contacts to The Trevor Project from anxious LGBTQ youth soared 26 percent. Thankfully, in our town, the superintendent of schools swiftly assured students and parents that they would continue to receive bathroom protections, quoting NY state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and NY State Education Department Commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, “Our most sacred duty as parents, educators and leaders of state agencies is to protect all of the children in our care. Transgender youth are valued members of our schools…so we must do everything to create learning environments that are safe and welcoming for all.” Amen.
How disappointing that it’s our Leader-in-Chief who has created an atmosphere that has allowed anti-semitism and bigotry to flourish and has now opened the door to more discrimination against transgender people.
As former Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear said so eloquently in his response to Trump’s Congressional Address this week: “Real leaders don’t spread derision and division. Real leaders strengthen and unify.” Remember that, Donald. Bomb threats against against JCCs, Pennsylvania high school students chanting “white power” and holding Trump signs, and now transgender students losing protection.
It’s on you.