By: Moshe Papier  | 

On Speaking Up

For as long as I can remember I have been an introvert. When presented with the opportunity to step onto center stage, time and time again I have declined, opting for the quieter and less obtrusive route. I am embarrassed to say that there have even been times when this aspect of my personality has kept me from speaking up when something I disagree with is discussed or debated.

“Those who know me well know how I feel,” is what I would tell myself. And for years it was enough to know that the people closest to me knew where I stood. To an extent, I have reacted this way when I have come under personal attack. However, in light of a recent article that calls into question my morals and beliefs, I feel compelled to defend myself. This article, published in the last issue of The Commentator, spoke about how a certain YU student left his roommate when he found out that his roommate was gay.  

Now, when I feel silenced by a former roommate and friend’s misrepresentation of my actions and values, I have to ask myself if it even matters how I react to his words. My instinct, as it always is, is to avoid responding publicly -- and that is not easy to overcome. But upon rethinking my situation, I realized that since my side of the story was being distorted, it mattered a great deal.

I agree with aspects of what my former roommate wrote and I do not argue that he has experienced forms of homophobic treatment. I have no intention of attacking him, and I do not wish for my response to be misconstrued in this way. However, I will also not continue to stay silent while he again attempts to vilify and misrepresent me in order to make larger claims about the Orthodox community.

In his article, he claims that it was a one-sided decision where I chose to leave abruptly because of my alleged homophobic beliefs. However, in reality our joint decision to separate for the remaining time that we would be living in the dorms at YU was handled with the utmost respect and sensitivity as well as with great discretion and common decency by the Office of University Housing and Residence Life, the resident advisors, and by me.

When my roommate first reached out to me two years ago, he expressed that he expected to attract a lot of negative attention to himself and those around him through publishing a provocative article in which he planned to come out to the larger public and criticize YU as an institution. He voiced that a primary concern of his at the time was over the fallout from such a controversial article, and he was worried about the potential negative effects that it could have on those closest to him, myself included.

In our messages to each other over Spring break, after he suggested the move in the first place, he again expressed his understanding that this was a complicated issue and decision to be made. “I want to stress that whatever you decide, I absolutely will not be offended,” he messaged me. “I am making public decisions that affect more than me and it’s only right to allow others that may be affected the ability to respond appropriately.” I remember telling him how much respect I had for him for considering the effects his decisions would have on others, especially when dealing with something so personal. Therefore, with only three weeks of the semester remaining, we agreed that it was best for both of us to be able to focus on our final exams, and that, while our friendship was still intact, rooming together was no longer the best option.

I have been saddened to read in his articles since then that he has clearly forgotten the common respect we once held for each other and has even turned to doing what we initially both hoped to avoid from others when we made that decision two years ago.

I remember the first time this happened. Two years ago, he published an article in which I was misrepresented and denigrated like I am today. It didn’t take long for the article to find its way to my Facebook newsfeed, despite the fact that he had de-friended me only moments before publishing the article. Now, like before, came the numerous shares and posts applauding my former roommate’s courage and bravery. Misled posts, fed with misinformation, by the very people for whom I hold so much respect and look up to -- did they know it was me that they were talking about when furthering this false idea of the roommate being the face of hatred towards the LGBTQ community? Would they ever know that it was a lie?

And while I appreciate the courage that it took to write such a personal account of his experience and time at YU, I cannot ignore the fact that I am once again unfairly and inaccurately portrayed as the face of homophobia in the Modern Orthodox community.

By associating me with homophobia in an article about Ben Shapiro’s speech at YU, the article suggests that I tend to agree with Ben Shapiro on these issues. I did not plan to speak up about the event, but now that I have been labelled this way, I feel the need to clarify my views. Those who know me well know that many of the things said by Ben Shapiro last month, as well as the great amounts of applause and support received from the student body in attendance, was something that concerned me. While I did not then, nor do I now agree with many of the beliefs held and sentiments shared by Mr. Shapiro, I attended this student-organized event as an opportunity to hear an opinion different from my own. I was disturbed by what Mr. Shapiro said, but I was also in awe of the few students who had the confidence to stand up and ask questions, especially those who asked questions in opposition. It was a courage I wish I had.

Those who know me well know that I too acknowledge that there are issues with the Modern Orthodox community’s current relationship with its LGBTQ members. I believe that we need to do more to ensure that respect and decency are granted to every member of our community regardless of sexual orientation. I hope that our community can be full of acceptance and I believe that the language of the conversation can and should change. I welcome and encourage the continued important discussions on campus, but my concern lies with this conversation remaining honest.

This concern is especially what drove me to write a response to clarify my role in this story. Many comments in response to this article that are supporting me have grossly misunderstood my motivations. I did not move out because of the fact that my roommate was gay, and I do not wish to be supported and cheered on by people who defend this as an appropriate response.

I am writing because I too value the human lives at stake that are affected by public speeches and published articles, lives of people who have more to them than what one distorted story may claim. I hope that we can strive towards a more accepting and honest community, one where we don’t have to put each other down in order to make ourselves feel heard.

Fellow students and peers, whether they view themselves as introverts or as not worthy of voicing a public opinion even to defend themselves, should not simply go gently into that good night. As I am now learning, it is not enough if only people who know you well know where you stand when the very things you stand for are publicly called into question. While I remain an introvert, I will no longer allow that to be an excuse for not standing up for what I believe.