Parsing the notion of political homelessness with Gretchen Hammond following the events of the Chicago Dyke March
Sunday, Aug 6, 2017
Gretchen Rachel Hammond, former reporter for the Windy City Times, marches resolutely to the podium and stands there observing the crowd of young, affluent, mostly single Jews who have gathered for the Algemeiner summer benefit and then begins her speech — a deeply personal narrative about discovering her voice as a transgender reporter and Zionist and the pain of being silenced by her own community. Hammond has recently risen to national prominence for breaking the story about the Jewish women ejected from the Dyke March in Chicago for carrying flags with the Star of David. Her reporting about this event sparked a controversy which resulted in her transfer to the sales desk.
As she speaks, the crowd is mesmerized, even giddy, applauding at key moments, laughing at others, feeling with it and hip. Algemeiner is a newspaper that covers Israel-based and Jewish news, rather than social justice issues, and now this fearless Brit in office casual has come to drop mad knowledge bombs about all the infighting among the people who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and use words like “intersectional.” You know, those people? Bret Stephens, house conservative at The New York Times and NBC News, sits in the front row, his head tilted towards Hammond, his features awash with the blank sort of pseudo-empathy that cis white men who want to appear open-minded assume when looking at trans or queer women. It’s the expression I make when people tell me long stories about their cat.
Not to pinkwash, but in 2016, Hammond, who also recently converted to Judaism, has been excoriated by the LGBTQIA community for essentially consorting with the likes of fascists, AKA Zionists, donated one of her kidneys to longtime lesbian activist and total stranger Elvie “LV” Jordan. As a journalist, she secured a release for a transgender woman incarcerated in the male division of Cook County Jail.
After Hammond’s messianic oration, which ends with her booming refusal to be silenced, there is thunderous applause. People rise to their feet. If ever there was a crowd to receive a half-Indian-half-English recent convert preaching unity, this is it: a group of pro-Israel, New York Jew-y Jews, including me: a Jewish, Zionist, cis-gendered lesbian. A lump forms in my throat. I turn to the guy to my left in solidarity, but he is the senior editor of Commentary, so I look at my purse.
Later, when Hammond goes back to Chicago and we speak on the phone, she is frank and grim about her feeling of political homelessness, and I’m struck by her vulnerability and fear. I’ve been ranting for days about the silencing of pro-Israel participants at the Dyke March to anyone who will listen. But this idea of political homelessness, it exemplifies my feeling of having to hide in plain sight for having certain views in certain company — being pro-Israel and anti-BDS with the left and being pro everything else (like choice and marriage equality) with the right. I often write about youth justice. It’s very Rabbi Hillel. “If I am not for myself, who will be for me, and if I am only for myself, what am I?” The thing is, I align with a movement, get pumped about its mission, and then they attack Israel or align with a known anti-Semite. It’s exhausting.