Keshet is a national organization that works for LGBTQ equality in Jewish life. The organization equips Jewish leaders with tools to build LGBTQ-affirming communities, creates spaces for queer Jewish teens to feel valued and develop their own leadership skills, and mobilizes the Jewish community to fight for LGBTQ justice. Keshet’s blog spotlights this work, as well as the voices of LGBTQ Jews, our families, and allies.
Each April schools across the country observe a Day of Silence, a day dedicated to ending anti-LGBTQ bullying and harassment. While we will be silent on our blog on the 17th, today we are bringing you the voice of one Jewish LGBTQ high schooler who is standing up for herself, her rights, and her community by helping Keshet research Gay-Straight Alliances at Jewish high schools. If you’re interested in learning more about the creation of safe spaces in Jewish schools, watch Keshet’s documentary film, Hineini: Coming Out in a Jewish High School, about the formation about the first Gay-Straight Alliance at a Jewish high school.
Living in Boston there has never been a great deal of conflict between my Jewish identity and my queer identity. I have been lucky enough to grow up in communities predominantly comprised of LGBTQ folk and allies—even my rabbi was a lesbian. My congregation, my childhood summer camps, and my high school have all been centered around being open and educated about the infinite spectrum that is gender and sexuality. These accepting and open communities made it relatively easy for me to explore my own identity.
My communities taught me that there are limitless ways to feel affection and attraction and that there are a vast range of experiences between binary genders; they also taught me that this in no way needs to conflict with my personal spiritual life in Judaism.
I’ve always known that a lot of people don’t have access to the kinds of supportive communities that I do. It took me a while to find some of them, myself. Knowing that in theory still rendered my recent work with Keshet to be eye-opening.
My assignment as a two week high school intern at Keshet was to contact Jewish private schools across the U.S. and ask if they have Gay-Straight Alliances. I called almost eighty different schools. Twelve had GSAs. The ones that had them were eager to tell me about the great work their clubs were up to, and their stories were heartwarming! Other schools were less receptive and practically pushed me off the phone after I offered to send more information about our work. Each conversation made me really recognize the personal advantage it was for me to have these open environments in my life.
I have never felt widely oppressed because of my sexual identity. However, there were some points at which I felt lost. For example, middle school was confusing for me because it wasn’t a place where people were especially candid about different types of sexuality. That all changed when I began attending an alternative education high school with a beautifully diverse and open student body. It was here that I first started hearing words like “spectrum” and “non-binary”. This gave me a whole new perspective on the ways that I don’t need to limit my identity. Since then I have developed a whole new kind of confidence in myself about my sexuality.
A school not having a support system for LGBTQ students is a school condemning queer children to a life of confusion and fear. Just having a place to speak is a huge step—I know it has been for me. When you’re not sure why you’re questioning what seems to come so naturally to your classmates, not knowing that you are not the only person who feels the way you do and having your identity entirely dismissed can be quite traumatic.
Having safe and open spaces to talk and hear others talk is vital to the mental well-being of all young adults. All students benefit from hearing from a wide range of experiences, not just those of people who are straight and cisgender.
For generations we’ve lived in fear of what it means to feel one way or another if it varies in the slightest from the norm. Teaching young people to be open in the queer world is a step towards developing a more educated future, one of individuals less afraid of themselves.
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