How YU Can Take Back its Pride
For the last five years, there has been a highly controversial issue at YU regarding the LGBTQ club. In April 2021, a group of Yeshiva University students and alumni filed a lawsuit against Yeshiva University in the New York State Supreme Court for violating the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) by denying the group of students the right to form an official LGBTQ student club. Yeshiva University’s corporation status would play a considerable determinant in the ruling of this case. Is it a religious or non-sectarian corporation? Throughout its recent history, Yeshiva University has double-dipped on reaping the benefits on both sides of the aisle.
In Yeshiva University’s defense, it can argue that it is exempt from the provision in the NYCHRL because religious corporations are exempt from the requirements of discrimination laws to protect religious beliefs. If deemed a religious institution, YU would have the legal right to reject the LGBTQ club because it goes against its Torah values. In response to refusing LGBTQ students forming the aforementioned club, the university said in a statement: “Our Torah-guided decision about this club in no way minimizes the care and sensitivity for each of our students, nor the numerous steps the university has already taken.”
On the other hand, Yeshiva University has held non-sectarian status for over fifty years after it legally separated itself from RIETS. YU has previously received government and state funding such as tax-incentivized bond issuances because of its status as a secular institution. This isn’t the first time a religious university has received government and state funding. In a previous case, a group of current and past students at federally funded Christian colleges and universities filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the US Department of Education, citing that the religious exemption allowing the discriminatory policies were unconstitutional because those universities received government funding. There is no reason YU’s unconstitutional position on its inconsistent standing is any different.
The university’s assurance to provide “care and sensitivity” didn’t extend to professor Joy Ladin, a tenured professor at Yeshiva University, who came out as transgender in 2008. Ladin said that after she publicly came out, YU told her that it would pay for the rest of her professional life, but on the condition that she couldn't step foot on campus. As she would later look back, the university’s response was “the best and most courteous form of discrimination imaginable.” For a university that claims to be accepting of LGBTQ staff and personnel, this story about Ladin is screaming to us that YU’s previous actions speak louder than its words. The school has been using both the non-sectarian and religious cards at the same time, pulling each one out when convenient.
It is no secret that LGBTQ students have felt uncomfortable being themselves at YU. Students have recounted events of being ostracized and targeted to frequent forms of bullying by other students. In a small survey conducted on a sample of just 30 YU students, approximately 66 percent of students admitted to having used a gay slur. Additionally, about 66 percent of students answered that they had overheard homophobia at YU, with as many as a third of students stating that homophobia is an issue in YU. While this is a very small sample and does not speak on behalf of the entire student body, it is still concerning. For a university that is so “sensitive” about their students' wants and needs, the LGBTQ community is missing one thing every other student has: a place where they can feel welcome in their own expression of themselves.
YU’s recent appeal to the Supreme Court shows that it is willing to go as far as bring the case to the highest court in the country rather than consider the fact that it was wrong or to stay consistent with itself. Suppose YU thinks it must deny The Pride Alliance’s requests to form an LGBTQ club because it would conflict with the university’s religious beliefs. In that case, YU must remain consistent as a “religious” institution and not collect government funding as a secular institution. Through its refusal to recognize The Pride Alliance and the shameful way it dealt with former professor Joy Ladin, Yeshiva University has repeatedly proven that rather than stand for moral integrity, it would rather unlawfully benefit from operating under inconsistencies.
Granting the Pride Alliance the ability to create an LGBTQ club would enable the students to benefit from university funding and provide a community for those who have felt shunned and ridiculed because of their sexuality. I believe that this is the best action the University can take if it genuinely cares about not only the LGBTQ students, or even the rest of the students, but its own morals and Torah values. A case can be made for YU if it identified as a “religious” university, but the fact is that it is non-sectarian, yet it tries to claim the benefits of being religious. As former Editor-in-Chief Sruli Fruchter ’22, once eloquently stated, “If we are serious when we proclaim to love our fellow Jews, then our yeshiva should be a place for every single Jew. But unless we genuinely want that to be the case, it won’t be.”
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Photo Caption: YU Pride Alliance
Photo Credit: The YU Pride Alliance