By: Zippy Spanjer | News  | 

College Dems Plan Uptown March for LGBTQ Rights

The YU College Democrats plan to hold a march in Washington Heights demanding LGBTQ equality on Sunday, Sept. 15 in conjunction with Eshel, Jewish Queer Youth and other related activist organizations. Slated to begin with a demonstration at Bennett Park, the march to the uptown Wilf Campus will be followed by a rally in front of the Gottesman Library.

Organizers and student activists are demanding that President Berman condemn and investigate homophobic comments and actions on YU campuses, the Office of Student Life refrain from rejecting LGBTQ-related events and speakers, an administrator be appointed to oversee diversity and inclusiveness on campus, an orientation session be held on LGBTQ tolerance and a clearly-identified Gay-Straight Alliance Club be allowed to open on campus. 

“LGBTQ+ students have decided to host this rally to raise awareness towards the lack of dignity, visibility, and respect granted towards the LGBTQ+ community at YU,” said Molly Meisels, president of YU College Democrats. “They have been denied a LGBTQ+ club/organization, are limited in hosting LGBTQ+-oriented events, and have no resources. This has isolated LGBTQ+ community members, having them fear the repercussions of appearing openly LGBTQ+. This march is designed to show that LGBTQ+ students do not happen to attend YU, but are YU."

The speaking lineup for the rally includes Rabbi Steven Greenberg, director of Eshel; Dr. Joy Ladin of SCW’s English Department; Justin Spiro, a social worker and LGBTQ advocate; and Courtney Marks, a current SCW student and member of the LGBTQ community.

Dr. Ladin, a long-time professor at Stern College, believes that this march is a turning point for the university. “When I began teaching at Stern in 2003,” remarked Ladin, “not only was such an event unimaginable; it was years before I was aware there were any LGBTQ students at YU. It takes tremendous courage and integrity to come out, be visible, and still remain part of a community, an institution, and a religious tradition, in which binary gender and heterosexuality are not only norms but celebrated as sacred. I hope this march will show other LGBTQ YU students and Orthodox Jews that they are not alone and that they don't have to choose between affirming their identities as Jews and being true to their gender identities and sexual orientations. That is a powerful teaching for everyone: that we can be true to all of who we are, to all of what we are created to be.” 

While both Ladin and Marks ascribe to the LGBTQ community, Marks is one of the few “out” students on campus. “When I first came to Stern, I felt alone and alienated because I felt there was no space for me,” Marks said. “Being so visibly out is never easy, but especially being out and hearing people make comments or professors/rabbis saying there is something wrong with people like me. I always say I don’t want a girl or guy or anyone in between to come here in a decade and wonder why no one fought for them.”

But not all students are in favor of the march. One student, commenting on condition of anonymity, stated that “while every person has a right to think for themselves, one does not have the right to force one’s ideas upon others and forcing a Torah-observant institution to endorse conduct which is unambiguously condemned in the Jewish tradition flies in the face of the respect for Torah and the very authority of Halacha which should be expected of an event which the university is asked to support.”

Another student, who also commented on the condition of anonymity, stated, “People have the right to express their views. That being said, people should make sure to have respect for an Orthodox yeshiva as well as make sure not to disrupt others.”

Though the march is being spearheaded by the YU College Democrats, it is not sanctioned by the university. “The march was planned independently of the University and didn’t follow the protocol for events on campus,” said Doron Stern, YU’s vice president of communications. “Yeshiva University has a responsibility to all its students to ensure they feel safe and welcome and that our campuses are places where each student’s individuality is respected.”

“While the march testifies to tremendous progress at YU, I know that we still have a long way to go before we embrace and support LGBTQ students,” Ladin said. “But I think — I hope — that we will look back one day and see that this march was a turning point. I feel honored to be part of it.”