A Crash Course in Being a Professional Ally to LGBTQ Youth

“I have friends I can be Jewish with, and friends I can be queer with, but I’ve never had a space to be both Jewish and queer.”
– Shelby, 16

 “I feel really isolated at my high school… it’s good to come to a place like this and finally feel like I’m part of a community.”
– Frankie, 18

“Being in a place where so many of us share the same labels means we can shed them at the door – Here, I don’t have to be the Jewish kid, or the gay kid; I can just be myself.”
– Sky, 18

Teens and staff at the 2nd LGBTQ Teen and Ally Shabbaton

Teens and staff at the 2nd LGBTQ Teen and Ally Shabbaton

Sentiments such as these were common at the Jewish LGBTQ and Ally Teen Leadership Retreat in early January, a joint project of Keshet and the Isabella Freedman Center, with support from the UJA Federation – and the second ever event of its kind. The weekend was a follow-up to the first LGBTQ Teen and Ally Shabbaton in August, when about a dozen LGBTQ Jewish  teens and allies met for the first time to share their stories and make new friends. This winter, those teens, along with some new additions to the group, came together not only to create new memories as a now inseparable group of friends, but also to develop their leadership skills. They also came together to begin to plan and design a future event that will attract close to 100 Jewish LGBTQ teens and allies, to create and connect a critical mass of change makers for the queer Jewish teen community.

As a BBYO professional, I was privileged to be a part of staffing both of these gatherings. As the queer Jewish teen voice gains momentum, I am excited to learn how I and my organization can continue to be a part of the larger conversation on how the Jewish communal world can be more actively inclusive of, and better advocates for, our queer Jewish youth. As Rabbi Steve Greenberg, one of the weekend’s speakers, said: It is not enough to simply put a rainbow sticker on our doors and call ourselves inclusive. If we as Jewish youth professionals want to honestly say we are doing everything we can to fulfill our commitment to pluralism, and to work in accordance with the seven Jewish values Keshet articulates, we must take action now to provide a welcoming, loving home for these teens within our communities.