LGBTQ+ and Ally Student Insights on the LGBTQ+ Discussion at YU
Editor’s Note: The Commentator's “We Asked, Y(O)U Answered” column provides students with a forum to express their opinions and/or experiences regarding various aspects of student life.
While The Commentator generally does not publish anonymous pieces, due to the sensitive nature of this piece, we have decided to publish these quotes anonymously. The author of this piece has confirmed that all respondents are current YU students.
With the Wilf Campus vote to not pass the proposed Amendment Six, which would have added an anti-discrimination policy to the Wilf Campus Constitution, and renewed discourse surrounding Yeshiva University’s options to answer the efforts of undergraduate students to obtain approval for an official LGBTQ club, this topic has been brought back to the forefront of student’s minds yet again. The Commentator reached out to LGBTQ students and allies at YU to provide their insights on the amendment vote and the recent articles written surrounding this topic. Students were asked to share their identity, how they felt about the vote outcome and if they were surprised, what their thoughts were about the larger context with regards to the attempts to establish an LGBTQ club, and what message they want to tell YU undergraduate students and/or the YU administration. The responses of nine students are provided below.
Orthodox Jew and Happily Queer (SCW ‘20)
“For a long time, I told myself that any YU-related problems were institutional. I liked the thought of a bold, educated student body collectively and successfully modernizing a change-resistant administration. The rejection of Amendment Six has forced me to confront the reality: that most students can’t see past what affects them directly. That, of course, is why the new cafeteria plan caused an uproar, while peer-to-peer support regarding LGBTQ+ spaces on campus is still ridiculously lacking.
“Students accuse the LGBTQ+ population at YU of being too loud. I don’t see loud. I see tough. I see a group of passionate students who are learning to fight for themselves, since — apparently — most of the remaining student body is willing to stand by in deafening silence.
“A recent Commentator article suggested that the YU Alliance is inappropriate because it has a ‘certain sexual light,’ more than other YU clubs. Please, tell me what exactly about the YU Alliance screams SEX? Is it the Chanukka party they hosted? The shiurim they want to have? If you want to condemn sexual activity that is prohibited by Torah law, why don’t you police the Confessions page, where mentions of heterosexual intimacy run rampant? Write an article about how the Seforim Sale is a dangerous gateway to the transgression of negiah? We are not the ones yelling about queer sex — it is the ‘concerned’ individuals who continually strip queer students of our privacy and humanity with these discussions.
“The same article suggests that queer students have ‘given up’ their Judaism because it’s too hard to reconcile with queerness. Believe it or not, reconciliation isn’t the hard part. Many of us have managed it and remain committed to Judaism. The hard part is trying to live side by side with fellow Jews who reject us. What queer Jews have to give up all too often is not their Judaism, but their place in the wider Jewish community, because many such spaces are not safe for Jews who are queer. And that is not our fault, but yours, with your condescending claims about ‘the difference between love and respect.’ If you can’t respect me, I don’t want your love.
“The fact that the majority of students voted against Amendment Six — and, in doing so, actively perpetuated campus-wide discrimination — is frustrating and demoralizing. As Jewish people, minorities ourselves, we benefit from anti-discrimination policies on a regular basis. Where is the empathy for others who will be — and are — similarly subject to prejudice and hate? If this is the direction of campus culture, I worry for current and future students.”
Ally, He/him (YC ‘21)
“While I never expected the amendment to reach the 65% threshold necessary to pass, I was quite shocked at just how many students were comfortable with protecting their ‘right to discriminate.’ The hateful rhetoric circulating in WhatsApp groups prior to the vote was particularly disturbing to watch unfold, and I don't understand how a population of students supposedly committed to Torah values can twist those values into justifying such hate, bullying and discrimination. Furthermore, to have certain people tell me they voted against the amendment because of ‘redundancies between Title IX and this amendment’ or because it ‘limits already limited student government power’ is so intellectually dishonest, if not covering up for homophobia. Title IX is meant to protect students from discrimination, but YU has failed to enforce it in regards to LGBTQ students. The description of the Yeshiva Student Union (YSU), a branch of the Wilf student government, states that ‘YSU board aims to serve all groups within Yeshiva University fairly.’ However, the student government has not sought to treat LGBTQ students fairly. Their responsibility is not to the rosh yeshiva who people have been claiming will leave if an LGBTQ club is instituted, or to the outside pressures of the administration. Their responsibility is to the students, and they have woefully failed in that so far. Yet the student body wants such students to be discriminated against which is empowering the student government to do so, which is frightening and sad to witness.
“The YU Alliance club isn't about halakha, it isn't about the roshei yeshiva. It's about protecting the emotional wellbeing of LGBTQ students at YU, and helping them to feel safe and fit in. The opposition to it is only succeeding in sending a message that students either don't care about these students' wellbeing or that they don't want them to fit in and feel safe at YU. I hope that in the future, students, administrators and roshei yeshiva can all recognize that preventing the establishment of a club is directly damaging to LGBTQ students, and they can prioritize pikuach nefesh, equality and empathy over discrimination.”
Ally, She/her (SCW ‘20)
Major: Jewish Education
“I was honestly horrified to hear the results of the Amendment Six vote. I understand the desire to preserve halakha. I also understand that this is a matter of pikuach nefesh. Multiple studies in the United States and abroad have shown ‘disproportionately high rates of suicidal behavior among LGBT adolescents and young adults.’ All of my religious friends who have come out to me revealed that they struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts. How could you not, in a community that literally believes you have no place there? In a community that wishes you didn’t exist? That’s what this vote showed me. It showed me that 60% of the Wilf student population wishes that religious LBGT students did not exist on ‘their’ campus. That more than half of the people you pass in the caf or sit next to in the library don’t believe their peers should be allowed to have a safe haven of a loving community, which is crucial for their mental health. Rather, they should remain underground or insolation, hidden — out of sight and out of mind. That is scary and sad, because it puts lives at risk. This club is not about promoting the violation of breaking halakha. This club is about one of the strongest principles of halakha — the sanctity of life, pikuach nefesh. It makes me wonder; if before people voted, did they consider ‘will this action bring myself, and those struggling, and this campus, closer to God, or further from God?’ To me, it, unfortunately, seems they chose the latter.”
Member of the LGBTQ Community, She/her (SCW ‘21)
“Thinking about the amendment vote, it feels like a piece of me died. The part of me that hoped and dreamed and cared about acceptance is no longer a part of me; instead I feel hardened and old. It was difficult for me to get out of bed the days surrounding the elections and I lost all motivation to get my schoolwork done. I ended up binge-watching Netflix shows, something that I rarely do, so that I didn't need to think about how unwanted I am. I am really involved on campus and I often think of YU as my home; this was a cruel reminder that this is not a space that values someone like me. Something I do often is tell myself that I belong, that I have a place in Orthodox circles; it may be naive but it is much easier than facing the hate. The results of the elections was a reality check that I didn't want to face.
“On top of all that, the recent article, ‘The Seventh Option: A Nuanced Approach to the LGBT Debate on Campus,’ encourages YU to show unconditional love to queer students but not acceptance or respect. If you are not going to respect or accept me, why in heaven's name do you think I want your love? What is love going to do? Is it going to stop my community from forcing me out? Do you think your love is going to convince me to stay? Your love is not unconditional; it is literally built on conditions, and I cannot understand why you think I would listen to your conditions if you don't show me basic acceptance. I don't think people realize how painful it is to treat my existence as a sin when I am someone who values Torah and halakha and I don't know what I’m doing that’s different from a straight person. Orthodoxy is my home, yet I now need to face the fact that I am not welcome. All I can say is I’m glad that we are not on campus right now because I don't think I can face people knowing that a significant number of my peers are in favor of discriminating against me.”
Gay (YC ‘20)
“Fear. Anger. Confusion. Frustration. Isolation. These are all just some of the emotions I felt as my phone slipped out of my hands when the results of the current YU election came in around midnight of May 8. As a gay student in YC on the cusp of graduation, I thought I would be able to follow through with one of my favorite life mottos that my grandfather always makes us chant as we would leave a camp sight: ‘Always leave something better than when you found it.’
“When I first arrived at YU several years ago I was terrified, I was behind most of my friends who had just spent a year in Israel and who already had a newly established friend group, I still wasn't sure what I wanted to do with my life and I was still struggling with my sexuality. The first couple of months were some of my worst; I developed severe depression, refusing to leave my dorm room and wondering if a jump from the third floor of Rubin would be enough to end it. Then I did the unthinkable, I came out to my roommate. I still remember the second Shabbos in February, having one of our typical deep Friday night conversations, and when we approached the topic of shidduchim I felt a knot grow in my chest, growing in weight and size, suffocating me, yelling at me to not say a word, to protect myself from the harm and retribution that would of course immediately follow. When without fully realizing it I whispered to him from across the room that I was gay, and then, life went on.
“From that moment forward I learned to not be as scared of opening up to people about this aspect of my life to the point where most of my friends are aware and accepting of my orientation. This all culminated this year when my friend asked for my help in drawing up a charter to help YU become more inclusive for LGBT students. This was one of the brightest days of my life, working with the students and administration to help make YU a better place for all. Unfortunately, this didn't pan out as intended, but I thought that groundwork is there, there are students who care, there are administrators who care, there is hope for a brighter tomorrow.
“That all came crashing down on May 8, after a member of the Canvassing Committee weaponized an anti-discrimination clause to spread homophobia, and after a student council president backed this weaponization and others took the original message further by drafting an amendment that would make others feel safe and protected into an end-all doomsday scenario. And no one said a word. No administrator took a stand to denounce the blatant hatred, the Canvassing Committee did not care about the action of one of their own.
“So how do I feel? Why would I tell an institution how I feel when they clearly do not care?
“To my fellow YU students, you don't get to let us be loved by the Jewish community but forbid us to find love on our own, that is not your choice. I am someone who lives and breathes the many shades of grey that surround us, that are the backbone of our day to day lives, understanding that the world is full of compromises. But telling someone that they do not deserve happiness, to find love, to have a family, to grow old with someone, saying that they are forbidden from having the same happiness as everyone else so you, a straight cisgender person, can feel better about yourself is nothing more than a pat on the back as you step on the backs of the same LGBT students you claim to love. To have a relationship that thrives and could blossom into a beautiful family tree takes time, commitment, communication and compromise. But no one should have to compromise whose arms they find that love and happiness in.”
A Halakhically Committed Jew Who Is an Ally (SCW ‘21)
“I think the situation at hand as a result of the vote is disheartening. It is obvious that the amendment was rejected because it had the potential to punish those who discriminate against people who identify as part of the LGBTQ community. While I understand that there are halakhic issues with the sexual acts of homosexuality, voting ‘yes’ to Amendment Six doesn’t condone the sexual behavior, nor does it pave the way for it to be condoned. The Anti-Discrimination Amendment policy advocates for the Wilf Campus’ student government to be a place where all people feel welcome regardless of ‘race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, etc.’
“It pains me tremendously to see people who are gay rejected from the community that they so badly want to be accepted into and be a part of because of who they love. I wonder what those students who voted ‘no’ would do if their son, daughter, brother or sister came out to them as gay? Would they exclude and reject their relatives from the family out of religious zealotry? I’m not sure. I don’t think the halakhic details are taught to ‘flipped out’ yeshiva students who have been taught (or pressured to think for fear of not being ‘frum’) include that gay people do not have a place in the Jewish community. The gay people who I know in the YU community are committed to Torah and are more learned than I am as a straight female. They struggle with their love of Halakhic Judaism and being gay and it’s painful for me to see my friends and others struggle with this constantly. I completely understand YU’s fear of pushing the envelope, and I think we should remain an institution that values halakha wholeheartedly, but I think we need to empathize with each other in a less narrow-minded way, and voting ‘yes’ to Amendment Six would have made YU a more welcoming place in a halakhically upheld way.”
Bisexual, He/they (YC ‘20)
“As an outgoing student, I'm very worried about what the rejection of Amendment Six means for the future LGBTQ students of YU. It signals to me a shift in the mindset of the student body from a tacit, silent disapproval of people like us to a more outspoken one. I will do all I can as an alumnus to help the students still there and those who have not yet been to campus, and I implore everyone who cares about the wellbeing, mental and physical, of their LGBTQ friends to do as much as possible, even without Amendment Six, to let the voice of acceptance and progress drown out the already blaring one of disapproval.
“There's a lot of posturing I see from people on and off campus — especially in Commentator think pieces, and nearly exclusively from the side against having a Gay-Straight Alliance — that treats LGBTQ YU students as ideas, mere concepts to toy around with as the writer gazes at their own navel and postures about ‘hating the sin and loving the sinner’ and other such platitudes. I happen to be a human being, thank you very much, one with feelings, experiences, and thoughts. I'm not an abstract concept, a corporeal entity for you to acknowledge only when you need to flex your intellect as a cudgel against accepting other people wholeheartedly, and I would appreciate being treated like the real person I am.”
Member of YU Alliance Board, Gay (YC ‘20)
Major: Political Science
“To say I am disappointed would not be entirely accurate. After three years on campus, I should not have expected anything else, yet somehow my optimism held out hope. Maybe it would barely scrape by, or more likely, it would be closely defeated. Yeshiva University has established in numbers that which was already widely known; YU is a community which favors discrimination over equality.
“What the amendment vote has not changed is the drive for LGBTQ equality at YU. The movement will not, and cannot be stopped, no matter how many amendment referendums fail. The opinion of non-LGBTQ YU students is completely irrelevant, both to me personally and to the movement for LGBTQ equality. The goal of this movement is to achieve in concrete terms complete equality and freedom for LGBTQ students at YU. That goal will be achieved, eventually, with or without consent from non-LGBTQ students. Their consent (and hopefully someday, their enthusiasm) can only make the process easier for everyone.
“Pride means relieving yourself of concern over the judgments of others who do not understand you. Pride means knowing that you are worthy of respect, even when it isn’t given, and demanding equality, even if it comes without respect.
“Conditioned equality is not equality at all. No one at YU has the right to control private behavior and the LGBTQ liberation movement at YU is not obliged to condemn anyone, especially not fellow LGBTQ students. The kind of scrutiny and censorship proposed in the various articles is not applied to any other YU organization, and it’s obvious why.”
Member of the YU Alliance Board, Queer (SCW ‘21)
“I do not feel safe in YU, now more than ever — and I’ve had my fair share of homophobia at this institution. I’ve sat through classes where professors have asked students in my class to debate whether or not LGBTQ Jews/myself should be ‘allowed’ in the Orthodox community. And as horrifying as that was to have to sit through that, what happened with Amendment Six was worse. 426 students voted in favor of discrimination. It is too horrific to even comprehend. And then, on top of that, to have to sit and read through discussions people are having about me and my personal life, making me feel like an 'other' or a 'problem,' is something no one should have to go through.
“To those on the Wilf Campus, please take a minute to try to understand what you have done when you voted against the anti-discrimination clause. You have made someone, who already does not feel safe or loved, feel sick to their stomach, anxious, afraid, alone, drowning, dehumanized, and hopeless. You have personally damaged someone’s mental health when you voted against that amendment and when you casually expressed your opinion on someone else’s life. And that person who you hurt could be someone who is very close to you.
“But you’ll never know if you have hurt your sibling, your classmate, or your friend, will you? I know you would never want to hurt someone you care about. So please, think about those who you have just hurt. Think about it and make a change. Because change starts with you.
“And to the students in YU who have gone even further into the closet because of this horrific incident and the articles surrounding it, you are not alone. I promise you, we are here and we support you. There is nothing wrong with you. We love you so very much and you will make it through this. There were so many people who mourned the outcome of the Wilf Election, allies and LGBTQ individuals alike. You are valid in your feelings and you are not alone. Do you hear me? You are not alone.”
Chana Weiss contributed to this story.
Photo Caption: LGBTQ students respond to recent events at Yeshiva University.
Photo Credit: Unsplash