I grew up in a world where sexuality wasn’t mentioned in Jewish schools. I wasn’t able to share my sexuality with anyone while at school, due to fear of discrimination and bullying. The only context in which I had ever heard the word “gay” was when it was being said as an insult or describing something forbidden. As such, I spent many years feeling lonely and isolated in schools that just didn’t know how to respond to lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT+) Jews, or to homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying. The collective stigma and burden of this unchangeable part of my identity — coupled with the lack of supportive voices from respectable figures in authority — ended up being too much to carry.
In the hope that I could one day be part of the community I loved so much, I endured three years of so called conversion therapy, pouring my efforts into trying to change this negative perception of my sexuality – as was the common “treatment” for people like me at the time. Conversion therapy didn’t change my sexuality and ended up leaving me feeling depressed and trapped in a life with no future to look forward to. Over time, through the support of family, friends and rabbis in the community, I have been able to heal and finally open-up about my sexuality and demonstrate my commitment to being part of the Jewish community.
The release of the “The Wellbeing of LGBT+ Pupils — A Guide for Orthodox Jewish Schools” is a remarkable step towards transforming the lives of LGBT+ Jews in our community. The guide has the power to save the lives of countless people like me in the UK, Commonwealth, and beyond, who feel that the shame and potential rejection is too much to bear. By writing this guide in collaboration with LGBT+ Jews, Chief Rabbi Mirvis has taken a bold step in starting public conversations around sexuality, gender identity, and the vital importance of our inclusion in our schools and Jewish communal life. The efforts made by him and KeshetUK will provide the strength and knowledge needed for leaders and educators to create environments that allow Jewish young people “to achieve their potential, free from bullying, discrimination and fear.”
Crucially, Chief Rabbi Mirvis’s conscious decision to ground this document in the religious language of obligation and law not only provides frameworks for schools to educate students and staff, but also brings LGBT+ Jews into religious discourse in an unprecedented way. When I was growing up I couldn’t have imagined a future that included the Chief Rabbi writing publicly on the daily struggles faced by LGBT+ Jews, let alone a guide giving practical steps to safeguard our wellbeing and then sharing this publicly to help as many people as possible. As we approach the High Holydays, the Chief Rabbi has written LGBT+ Jews in the Book of Life and I pray that the publication of this guide will be the beginning of LGBT+ Jews feeling actively part of our community, in a world where people can be open about who they are and who they love, without shame or fear of rejection.
- FULL Jewish News interview with John McDonnell: ‘MPs shouldn’t face deselection’
- Listen to the full interview with John McDonnell here: