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Members of the Westboro Baptist Church engaging in Hate

I’m not gay. That’s always been a bit of a sticking point in my involvement in the gay rights movement, and in the HIV/AIDS arena, which date back to the mid-1980s. There were lots of times when I was the only straight person in the room. My fellow volunteers were cordial, but the unspoken question in their eyes often was: What is she doing here?

My family didn’t really understand, either. So I asked my father, who’s a refugee from Nazi Germany, if he remembered the German Lutheran minister who lamented that during the Holocaust, he didn’t speak out when the Nazis went after Jews, communists and trade unionists, because he was none of those things—so when the Nazis came for him, there was no one left to speak up for him.  Supporting gay rights was my way of speaking up, my way of keeping the promise of “Never Again.”

I have always felt that, just as much as Jews, gays and lesbians long have served as the “canary in the mine,” used to test the air for what society will tolerate. In an age where it’s (finally!) socially unacceptable to treat people differently because of the color of their skin, it seems to me that in some circles—and often, in the same circles—Jews are still iffy, and sexual orientation is still fair game. The pink triangle and the yellow star are inextricably bound together.

Now comes news that the Westboro Baptist Church is re-directing its energies from bashing gays to bashing Jews.  These are the Topeka-based slimebags who show up at funerals bearing signs with inspiring sentiments such as “God Hates Fags.” They started with the funerals of people who were gay, but then picketed any funeral likely to garner news coverage (think: U.S. soldiers killed in action, schoolgirls killed in a bus accident, etc).

It seems Pastor Fred Phelps and crew are bored with gays, and last week began rallying against Jewish community institutions in Washington, DC.

Their new message: “Jews Killed the Lord Jesus.”

Lesson: If bigotry against gays is allowed to go unchecked, then bigotry against others will follow. And sometimes, those others will be us.

Linda Cohen is a Diet Coke fanatic who lives in suburbia with her family and two psychotic cats. Linda also is a longtime HIV/AIDS activist who heads up marketing communications for JUF. Her favorite book is The Lone Pilgrim by Laurie Colwin, and she is addicted to “Top Chef” and “Iron Chef America.” She currently is having an affair with Jon Stewart.

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