Dear Jewish Press,
Hiding safe behind his own “anonymity”, the author of the article “Torah Values vs LGBT Agenda” publicly trashes two other Jews by name (one, a respected Orthodox Rav, the other a young abuse victims advocate). He continues throughout the piece to cast dispersions on a whole community of Jews, citing tired homophobic stereotypes, manufactured accusations and erroneous assumptions. More disconcerting is that your paper decided to publish this mud-slinging a day before Yom Kippur. On a day when Jews all over the world are asking for Mechilla (forgiveness) from one another, you take aim and trigger one of the most vulnerable and at-risk Jewish populations: Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Transgender youth in the Orthodox community.
This is a new low.
As the director of JQY, a crisis-support organization for LGBT Youth in the Orthodox community, I am particularly worried about the head-space that this article will put Orthodox LGBT young readers in, right before one of the hardest days of the year for them. LGBT youth from non-accepting families are eight times more likely to attempt suicide and self harm (Ryan, 2009). Is this the time for negativity, judgment and barbs?
The irony is that I happen to be an advocate of the “anonymous” author publicly sharing his feelings, hopes, fears and dreams for himself. There are many LGBT Jews for whom “gay pride” is not a helpful or relate-able concept. We all are different. It is important for people to hear everyone’s story, and each of us should feel validated in our journeys. However, why is it necessary for the author to castigate others? There is neither a need nor any purpose in including his negative rhetoric, personal attacks or suggested malicious intent that he so blatantly ascribes to whole group of people. You do not need to shame others in order to tell your story!
Let’s be honest, the anonymous author only includes the names of the rabbi and young person he disagrees with, to speak disparagingly about them and to embarrass them. This was an obvious and direct attempt to apply stigma and communal pressure onto a kind Rabbi who went out of his way to share his Torah with other Jews. No context is even offered to explain why the Rav was asked to give the shiur, or what the shiur was actually about. The reader is only left knowing the Rabbi’s name, the name of his congregation, and that he did a terrible thing in the opinion of the secret author. The goal is to publicly embarrass the rabbi and anger his congregation. Conveniently, the author remains anonymous and insists on protecting his own confidentiality while he calls out the names of other people to shame. This cowardice act of slander on Erev Yom Kippur is simply despicable, and most certainly hallachically and hashkafically perverted.
In Yehadus to shame someone publicly is likened to murder. To shame a whole group of people by publishing Motzie Shem Ra about them is unforgivable. Why does the author insist on speaking negatively about the members of this group and community? How does someone else marching in a pride parade or identifying proudly as gay directly harm HIM? Notice that he never cites an actual incident where he was silenced or shamed for his feelings, because at JQY he never would be!
JQY is a place for all LGBT youth in the Orthodox world. We value and encourage those who hold fast to hallachic ideals, but never judge those who have been so hurt by their Orthodox families and communities that they feel they must leave frumkeit. We are a safe place for those who identify as LGBT, but just as welcoming to those who reject these labels.JQY offers a crisis support line, teen and young adult support groups, anonymous web resources, and a special group for Orthodox parents of LGBT children called Temicha.
The truth is while JQY supports its many members who proudly march in the Israel and Pride Parades, we also support our members who choose not to march. They are never made to feel bad. Parades and rainbows are certainly not for everybody. At JQY we respect the fact that some of our members may be closeted, bisexual, or exploring options that would allow for heterosexual relationships. Who can judge? Sexuality exists on a spectrum and sometimes has innate fluidity; as long as they aren’t hurting anyone else how could we ever make someone feel bad for wanting to lead a more normative hallachic life? We would never shame anyone for trying.
However, we also cannot blame the many gay Jews who this is impossible for. It would be cruel to expect all LGBT Orthodox youth to live in a perennial state of angst and struggle. Certainly everyone deserves the chance to feel good about who they are. JQY strives to cultivate healthy sense esteem; this is what we mean by encouraging pride. I believe that the article’s author should be proud of his heroic commitment to Hashem. Ironically, in insisting on his own anonymity, it is he who seems to be insecure with his decisions and life choices.
JQY would never silence the author from sharing his experience. On the contrary, we would empower and affirm him. We often include celibate, heterosexually married and Jews in conversion therapy in our JQY panels and educational initiatives. At JQY our goal is simply health and well being. With suicide rates for gay youth in the Orthodox community alarmingly high, negativity and judgement can literally risk people’s lives. We would never make anyone feel bad about their choices. Our only rule is not to harm or attack others.
I want to give this anonymous author a voice. So I actually do not think the article should be completely stricken. Instead, I would ask the “anonymous” author to re-write the article, and focus on himself and his wishes and desires, without bad-mouthing others in the process. Furthermore, if he chooses to keep his name confidential, than he should at least extend the same respect to other Jews.
Especially on Erev Yom Kippur, I think this is a reasonable request.
May we all work to build each other up and not to tear each other down.
This holiday please consider giving a tax-deductible donation to JQY so we can continue our life-saving work.
More information about JQY can be found at www.JQYouth.org