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December 19, 2014 / 27 Kislev, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘JQY’

Surviving Bullying, Silencing And Torment For Being Gay In The Frum Community

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

It’s been more than six months since The Jewish Press published an op-ed titled “Orthodox Homosexuals and the Pursuit of Self Indulgence.” In the article, the writer, while not mentioning my name, calls me shameless and self-indulgent and suggests that I learn to suffer in silence. He was referring to an anti-suicide video I made for the “It Gets Better” project. In the YouTube video I talk about the endless bullying in my childhood, the trauma of reparative therapy and my suicide attempt as a result of a frum community that seemed to not want me to exist simply because I was gay.

My message was that, with time, with understanding friends and with self-acceptance, it gets better. I hoped to tell other kids who may be on the brink of suicide to stick it out, because life gets better; even for gay Jews growing up in the Orthodox community. This video never talks about private behavior, never mentions any assur activity, and certainly does not divulge anything about what I do behind closed doors. However, simply because I talk about how I was bullied for being gay, the author tried to make me feel horrible for simply sending a message of hope. He succeeded in embarrassing me and making me feel unwanted by this community.

I wish I could say that this is the exception. But the truth is that despite the fact that I would never talk publicly about private personal behavior or engaging in sin, the frum world seems to see me as part of a “gay agenda” simply because I won’t stay quiet.

My name is Chaim Levin. I grew up in a heimishe family in Crown Heights. I love my mother, my father and my family. I had always felt different and was the subject of relentless bullying by other boys for “seeming” gay. When I was 17 I confided to a friend that I was attracted to men and not sexually attracted to women at all. When it came out, I was thrown out of yeshiva. For the longest time I felt so alone because I truly believed that I was the only person battling this secret war. My older siblings were getting married and having kids, and all I ever wanted was to be a part of the beautiful world my parents had raised me in. My dream was to marry a woman and live the life my family hoped and dreamed for me. I would never have chosen to be gay; I could not imagine anyone growing up in the Orthodox world who would choose to be someone who doesn’t fit into the values and norms of everyone around them.

So do I think that I was “born gay”? I don’t know and I am not sure how important that is. What is important is that it certainly is not something that I chose or had anything to do with. And I felt immense pressure to somehow change who I was.

After much time and research I found a well-known organization that “specialized” in reparative therapy. This organization had endorsements from a wide range of rabbanim and I was sure that it was the answer to all my problems. The organization’s executive director told me that he believes everyone can change if they simply put in the hard work. I would have done anything to change, and this message was just the hope I was looking for. I spent two years attending every group meeting, weekend, and individual life coaching sessions they offered. My parents and I paid thousands of dollars. Every day, every session, I was working and waiting to feel a shift in my desires or experience authentic change. That moment never came. I didn’t change, I never developed any sexual desire for women, and never stopped being attracted to men. Instead, I only felt more and more helpless because I wasn’t changing. The organization and its staff taught us that change only comes to those who truly want it and are willing to put in the work. So if I wasn’t changing, I was seen as someone who either really didn’t sincerely want it, or would not put in the necessary work. In other words, there was no one to blame but myself.

The worst part of my experience in reparative therapy came at the end. In a locked office, alone with my unlicensed “life coach,” I was told to undress, stand in front of the counselor and do things too graphic to describe in this article. I was extremely uncomfortable, but he said that I must do this for the sake of changing and that if I didn’t remove my clothing I wouldn’t be doing the work it takes to achieve change. I would do anything to change, and so I did what he asked me to do. It was probably the most traumatizing experience of my life.

At Orthodox Mental Health Group’s Forum, Openly Gay Jews Get Their Say And Some Support

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. – The 15th annual conference of Nefesh International, an association of Orthodox mental health professionals, was a study in inclusion. Dr. Judith Guedelia, the director of Shaare Zedek Medical Center’s neuropsychology unit and a regular contributor to The Jewish Press, became the first woman to receive the conference’s Esther Solomon Mental Health Award. Several participants noted the increased chassidic representation. And three openly gay men for the first time were permitted to set up a table. Members of Jewish Queer Youth, a support group for Orthodox and formerly Orthodox LGBT Jews, they distributed informational materials and debated – and occasionally berated – conference participants. The JQY members were allowed to participate in last weekend’s conference at a Long Island hotel only as individual advocates raising awareness, not under the banner of an organization. And only after a special appeal to Nefesh. “They wanted to talk about their struggles as homosexuals in the Orthodox world,” said Nefesh president Simcha Feuerman, a marriage and family therapist in private practice in New York and a weekly Jewish Press columnist. “Mental health professionals should be aware of those voices.” Feuerman noted that as an organization that abides by halacha, or Jewish law, Nefesh cannot support any organization that “normalizes” homosexual behavior. “On the other hand, we certainly have great compassion and interest in the challenges and struggles that persons with homosexual desires and orientation experience,” he said. The inclusion of openly gay men at the conference represents yet another shift, however incremental, in the willingness of the Orthodox community to candidly discuss homosexuality. It also comes as Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing, or JONAH – an organization that promotes reparative therapy for Orthodox gays – did not participate in the conference after its controversial appearance last year. JONAH co-founder Arthur Goldberg told JTA that he had a prior engagement in Florida. “The last few years have seen a seismic shift in attitudes toward LGBT people in Orthodox communities,” said Jay Michaelson, the author of God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality. “To an outsider, things may seem barely to have changed. But to those of us who are part of or work with Orthodox communities, the change has been dramatic.” Last year, a gay Shabbaton in Connecticut attracted more than 150 guests. In the summer of 2010, a group of more than 150 Orthodox rabbis and mental health professionals endorsed a statement that called for greater sympathy from rabbis and counselors, urged families not to cast out homosexual children and cast doubt on reparative therapy, which most mental health professionals consider a sham. And just last month, a self-described Orthodox rabbi performed a gay commitment ceremony in Washington. The developments are not without their opponents, however. A statement on homosexuality signed by several leading Orthodox rabbis and Orthodox mental health professionals asserts that homosexuality is a curable condition and calls for resistance against “the infiltration” of homosexual activists in the Orthodox community. The statement, publicized last week on the Huffington Post, forbids a gay individual from being alone with a member of the same sex and cautions Orthodox individuals about “accepting some false notions.” On Saturday evening, Rabbi Dovid Cohen, one of three rabbinic advisers to Nefesh, spoke on making a distinction between sin and organized sin – comments interpreted by many conference-goers as targeting homosexuality in general and JQY in particular. In an interview with JTA, Rabbi Cohen said that anyone who organizes to reject a provision of the Torah should be regarded as a traitor. They should still be treated for their illness, he said, but not with compassion. “It’s as if someone was asked to treat an enemy soldier who is trying to kill him,” Rabbi Cohen said. “We shouldn’t have empathy.” At the conference, JQY members sought to distinguish between homosexuality as an orientation and gay sex as an act, with only the latter prohibited by the Torah. “JQY doesn’t challenge anything in the Torah,” said Mordechai Levovits, the co-executive director of JQY. “We understand that there are some acts that are halachically problematic, but we believe that [gays] can be openly themselves and still be part of the community and their families.” According to Levovitz, JQY does not “support or encourage sexual or intimate behavior…and adheres to the principal of tzniut [modesty], which demands that intimate behavior stays private and discrete.” The group, he says, only seeks “to combat shame, bullying and ostracizing while making families, yeshivas and communities safe and welcoming to their gay members.” Despite the debate, many conference participants appeared supportive of the JQY members and were pleased by their presence. A steady stream approached their station at the end of the hall featuring a well-stocked collection of testimonials about harmful therapeutic practices and statements from Orthodox rabbis on homosexuality. One of two television screens played a video of gay men describing the trauma they experienced as youths in the Orthodox community. “People need to hear that there is a gay population in the Orthodox community that needs to be integrated,” said Malka Engel, a social worker and psychoanalyst who practices in Manhattan and on Long Island. “Why not?” said a therapist who preferred to remain unnamed. “We’d rather find a way to treat than kick them out. How can we learn anything without talking to them?” (JTA)

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/us-news/at-orthodox-mental-health-group%e2%80%99s-forum-openly-gay-jews-get-their-say-and-some-support/2011/12/07/

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