Letters to the Editor of the print version of The Jewish Press appear on the JewishPress.com site. This week a letter from a reader appeared (see pages 2 and 3), in response to which the mother of a gay teenager wrote a letter in the form of an op-ed. That mother asked that her name be withheld. This is what she wrote:
Dear Mr. Goldstein,
First, I want to thank you for publicizing the wonderful organization that is JQY or Jewish Queer Youth. I am an Orthodox mother of a 15 year old gay son and JQY has been an invaluable resource to me and my son since he came out to our family about 6 months ago. Prior to connecting with JQY and Eshel (another fantastic organization for Orthodox LGBT people) our family felt so alone.
In your letter you referred to JQY as an “openly immoral group.” I have to say, this concerned me. I have met several of the JQY leaders and they never struck me as “openly immoral.” But you said the organization marched in the parade with blatantly offensive banners last year. So I decided to look at JQY’s website to see how this organization promotes open immorality in a blatantly offensive way.
Here’s what I found when I went to JQY’s website. The first thing I noticed was a large printed, “Jewish? Orthodox? Gay? You are not alone! Welcome to JQY!” That doesn’t seem too blatantly offensive or immoral but I guessed that I probably had to look a little closer on the page. Based on what you said, the mission must promote an obviously immoral lifestyle. Here’s what the mission of JQY is:
Our mission is to address the unique needs of LGBT frum* and formerly frum Jews. JQY is dedicated to cultivating a Jewish community where no one feels alone, bullied or silenced because of their orientation or gender identity. Special attention is given to youth, young adults and their families; however we have programs for all ages.
Wait a minute. There is nothing immoral in that mission statement. It almost seems…helpful to people who are in the Orthodox Community and who are LGBT and need support. Now I was confused. I figured the pictures that make up the top and bottom banners of the page must be suggestive or immodest. But all I saw in these pictures are smiling groups of people who look comfortable, proud and most importantly, not alone.
I searched some more and found links to support groups, crisis resources, holiday and shabbat meals, an open Beit Medrash, Mental Health outreach, and speaker training programs. I kept searching for the offensiveness you spoke of in your letter.
Luckily, right before I left the page in despair that I would never be made privy to what was so hurtful to you, I finally found the blatantly offensive propaganda that you think JQY is spewing. About three quarters of the way down the page in bold yellow typeface, there is a statement that says “We are in every Yeshiva!”
Wow. Imagine my feelings when I saw that. That an organization which says it is trying to help Orthodox (and formerly Orthodox) LGBT people could say such a thing. I mean, sure. Statistics tell us that there is likely at least one LGBT person in every extended Orthodox family. But to say that there is an LGBT person in every Yeshiva?
Mr. Goldstein, I applaud you for bringing this to my attention. Because now I can speak to my son honestly and openly and I can tell him, “You’re not alone.” I can assure him that even though he feels like life is an uphill battle and even though so many people in the Orthodox community in which he was raised won’t accept him for who he is and will only think of him in terms of what will or won’t go on in his bedroom when he is older, he is not alone. There are kids like him in every Yeshiva, every Day School, and even every Bais Yaakov across the country. He can rest assured that he has the power to make someone else who might be feeling lonely, depressed, isolated, or even – G-d forbid – suicidal, feel just a little better by telling them that they are not alone.
He can make them aware of the JQY teen support phone calls and email lists that he is part of. He can tell them about the Jewish, but not-orthodox shabbaton for LGBT kids that he went on that a JQY staff member attended just to give support to the Orthodox kids there. He can tell these kids that when they’re ready to
come out to their parents, JQY has a support group called Temicha for Orthodox Parents of LGBT kids.
Mr. Goldstein, I get it. Something about an organization that wants to make life better for Orthodox LGBT people makes you feel uncomfortable. I am not sure why, but it is obvious that their very presence threatens you in a way that you probably can’t even explain yourself. Therefore, you have rallied to exclude this group from supporting their homeland, using the Torah as an excuse. But please know that is all it is. An excuse to be at best exclusionary and at worst hateful and homophobic.
Schools that march in the parade that JQY marches in are not “legitimizing homosexual behavior.” They are supporting Israel and recognizing that there is a group amongst them that happens to offer incredible support and love to Jews who might not always feel support and love from the greater community. This group happens to support Israel as well. Nothing else.
I don’t assume that my letter will change your mind. It’s made up already. But maybe someone else will read it and realize that what you are proposing is not only hurtful but hateful as well. And maybe someone else will see this letter and reach out to JQY and life will be a little better for him or her in the future because of it.
-A Proud Mom