An Informed Perspective on LGBTQ Involvement in Stomp Out The Stigma: Letter to the Editor
To the Editor:
As a former Active Minds club president and current mental health advocate in the Jewish community, I feel it is my obligation to address some disparaging remarks that have been directed at Active Minds for not including LGBTQ representation at this year’s Stomp Out The Stigma event (SOTS). This narrative was stoked by the second paragraph in the most recent YU Observer editorial and supported by a tactless student quote. Stunningly, Mordechai Levovitz, the founder and clinical director of JQY — a prominent LGBTQ organization in the Jewish community — also wrote a Facebook post calling out the event for its “#hypocrisy” in not addressing the stigma faced by LGBTQ students. Additional disappointment has been expressed by many in the YU community, including through critical posts on YU social media forums.
Let me clear this up: The purpose of SOTS is to stomp out the mental illness (MI) stigma — not stigmas in general. To lump in other wrongly stigmatized groups (such as those with developmental disabilities, a stutter, or LGBTQ members) would not be in line with the event’s crucial focus. Specifically, SOTS is designed to make sure students who have MI know they are not alone and can get healthier, to educate those without MI and those with MI who don’t realize it and of course to empower the speakers. While each of those sentiments certainly applies to the LGBTQ community as well, a separate event would be the proper forum to advocate for that specifically.
Many will point out that even while the purpose of the event is stomping out the MI stigma, members of the LGBTQ community battle MI at a disproportionately high rate and thus should be represented. While understanding those groups which are at a higher risk of developing MI is important, the point remains that SOTS is at its core designed for the reasons stated above. In the future, a speaker may very well have MI and be part of the LGBTQ community, and it would be wholly important for the student body to appreciate that connection. However, understanding the realities of the MI would still be the focus of the speech, as it is for all SOTS speeches. It by no means diminishes the event by not having one or multiple speakers be LGBTQ.
Finally, I’d like to point out the beyond countless and thankless hours it takes for the Active Minds presidents to put SOTS together. These hours include time spent recruiting potential speakers, selecting the speakers, choosing speaker liaisons, helping craft the speeches, readying the speakers, arranging the numerous logistics of the huge event with the Office of Student Life and advertising the event. It is appalling to see their truly hard work be in any way denigrated, not to mention the potentially life-saving work of the speakers themselves.
The LGBTQ community should and must have a dedicated student club so they can have their own events like SOTS. It is past time for YU’s administration to grow a backbone and approve the YU Alliance club. However, it is not fair to expect nor proper for Active Minds to make LGBTQ activism part of their mission.
Etan Neiman (SSSB ‘17) is the former president of Active Minds (2016) and current Director of Operations of Refuat Hanefesh, a non-profit organization that deals with mental health issues in the Jewish community.