The recent Court of Appeal decision in the case of “In the matter of M (Children)” overturned the High Court decision in “J V B” to give transwoman “J” contact with her children. This case is a timely reminder that the Orthodox community cannot ignore the LBGT people in its midst. We have seen in recent weeks that 25 Orthodox Rabbis in Golders Green, Hendon and Edgware have banned their congregants from visiting JW3 due to the occasional presence of a support group for LGBT families called “Imahot v Avot”. It should not surprise these Rabbis to know that a number of the LGBT parents attending the JW3 group were brought up in the Orthodox community, although most have now found more inclusive and accepting Jewish communities as adults.
The current outcry against teaching about same sex marriage and LGBT relationships in Orthodox schools as part of the British values curriculum misses the crucial point; that the percentage of children in these Orthodox schools who are LGBT is likely to be similar (or higher, see the 2013 study at Brock University which showed that having more older brothers increased a man’s chances of being gay) as the percentage in any other school. To deny this is just to sweep the issue under the carpet. However, unfortunately LGBT children in the ultra-Orthodox community are being brought up in a hostile environment and are often encouraged into arranged marriage at a young age without regard for their sexuality or gender identity. It seems obvious that these children need the LGBT education more than any other group of children as they won’t have the time and space as young adults to figure out who they are before they find themselves married and bringing up children.
There have also been claims that forcing schools to teach the British values curriculum is contrary to religious values, and hence is in conflict with the freedom of religious practice under Article 9 of the Human Rights Act. The M (Children) case seeks to clarify the point; that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, either alone or as part of a community. However, there is a limitation to the right to practice one’s faith when it’s necessary to protect the legal rights and freedoms of others. So Jewish schools aren’t exempt from this legislation, and Jewish organisations such as Synagogues cannot discriminate against those who are LGBT even if they believe it to be sinful or otherwise wrong.
Transwoman “J” is not the first person to find themselves an LGBT person trapped in an unhappy marriage in an unforgiving community. She won’t be the last either, so a real effort and enthusiasm is needed by the whole Jewish community to ensure that the DFE’s British values curriculum as well as the proposed requirements for sex education is rolled out to all Jewish schools to ensure that the future generation of British Jewish LGBT adults can live happy and fulfilled lives regardless of which part of the Jewish community they are part of. It’s time for these Rabbis to stop blaming others including the DFE; LGBT issues are not an absurdity threatening Orthodox Judaism. In Israel there are shomer Shabbat gay and lesbian families bringing up their children as religious Orthodox Jews, attending religious schools. Orthodox communities will be better places when the “Imahot and Avot” and their children feel so included, welcomed and comfortable that they actually want to live in these communities rather than having to look elsewhere.