Rabbi Laurie Green of Bet Mishpachah recently returned from a week in the Dominican Republic, where she networked with those who work on behalf of that nation’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, and people struggling to obtain citizenship.
Green is one of 10 rabbis from across the country participating in American Jewish World Service’s Global Justice Fellowship for Rabbis. As part of the year-long program, she spent Jan. 17 to 24 in the Caribbean nation, speaking with those in non-governmental organizations working closely with AJWS and officials in the American embassy.
“It absolutely is a life-changing experience,” Green said during a telephone interview while still in the country which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. “It’s a beautiful country,” with a mixture of amazing sunsets, “the most unbelievable poverty that you can imagine,” big mansions “and, of course, Forever 21 and Starbucks.”
Green, whose Washington synagogue is primarily home to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews, called life for members of the LGBT community in the Dominican Republic “horrible.” They often are arrested “not for anything illegal,” she said, adding that while in detention, “they have to give the police sex as well as huge sums of money.”
They are beaten and fired from jobs, she said. “The health system is completely closed to them. Doctors won’t work on them.”
The people who told their stories to the group are “all of the above. They are scared. They are sad, and they are angry.” However, they also are “incredibly courageous and hopeful.”
It was common for someone to tell of their problems and then “go and dance,” Green said. She called the Dominican Republic “probably not the worst place to be LGBT in the world, but it’s certainly not the best either.”
The other issue that kept the group occupied concerned a 2013 court ruling that retroactively stripped citizenship from anyone born between 1929 and 2010 on Dominican soil to non-Dominican parents. That ruling had a huge impact on people of Haitian descent who were in the country.
“At least tens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, should have citizenship,” but do not due to this ruling, Green said. Because they are “denied their rights, they are denied their documents.” The result is that is that it is very difficult, if not impossible, for them to attend school or find work.
The rabbi spoke with a 17-year-old man who was offered a contract to play baseball with the San Diego Padres.
“He’s been in court for a year and a half trying to get his darn ID,” she said. “He just has faith that this is somehow going to work out.”
Some people have spent “a small fortune” to be able to obtain their papers, she added. “Those are the lucky ones.”
Fellowship participants lobbied at the American embassy because “the United States has a lot of influence,” she said.
The fellowship, which began Oct. 1 and runs through April 30, is designed to enable participating rabbis to become advocates for global justice.
Green said she will speak about what she learned to her congregation and other groups. She also expects to lobby Congress.