Saturday, February 04, 2012

Jewish Press Stands Firm Against Homophobes

Fundamentalist and ultra-far right Christians are not the only merchants of hate and bigotry and foes to LGBT equality. Ultra-conservative and orthodox Jews can likewise be a threat to the health and welfare of gay teens and push the fraudulent and discredited "ex-gay" myth. As with anti-gay fundamentalist Christians, I suspect much of the hatred aimed at gays by these Jewish groups stems from a fear that if the Bible is wrong about gays, then it is likely wrong about a great deal of other things. All of this causes the fundamentalist/ultra-conservative's fabricated world view to begin to crumble and they lash out that anyone and anything that threats the false certainty to which they cling. On January 25th, the Jewish Press published an op-ed by a young gay man (pictured at left) that challenged the anti-gay elements in the orthodox community in Brooklyn, New York. Here are a few highlights:

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.

[S]imply 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.

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. . . . . 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 recent Torah Declaration, signed by so many rabbis, only serves to perpetuate the notion that all homosexuals in the Orthodox community must change in reparative therapy. Unlike the helpful recent RCA statement on welcoming homosexuals or the “Statement of Principles” written and signed by over 200 responsible rabbis, the Torah Declaration does not demand that therapists must be board licensed. Unlike these other statements, it does not allow those for whom this kind of therapy is harmful or not working to seek other options. It kills me that this Torah Declaration will be used by parents to force their children into therapies that may be harmful to them. It frightens me that this Torah Declaration says that “change is mandated by the Torah,” when I know personally that change therapy has not worked and was so harmful for me. It hurts me to know that I am now being blamed by these rabbis and therapists for this failed therapy.

The op-ed goes on for several pages and not surprisingly, the reaction of the hate merchants was explosive and the Jewish Press received threats and its advertisers received threats from the pious, godly folks. No one it seems is better at hating others than the religious crowd and their leaders who make a living fleecing the sheeple. Face with these attacks, many publications would have knuckled under to the forces of ignorance and bigotry. Fortunately, the Jewish Press refused to take the coward's way out and published an editorial firing back at the forces of bigotry. Here are some excerpts:

For more than 50 years The Jewish Press has been the voice of the Jewish people. We have stood up for the Jewish people, for the nation and for individuals. We have stood up when everyone else has been silent. We have stood up when it was unpopular to do so. We have stood up to praise, protect, and even reprimand our people when needed.

And we will continue to be the voice of the Jewish people, no matter who threatens us. Last week we ran an op-ed article by Chaim Levin, a young man who has identified himself as both religious and homosexual.

We did not run this article to promote homosexuality. We did not run this article to condone anti-halachic behavior. We did not run this article to intimate that homosexual behavior could be a Jewish life choice.

We ran this article because, whether one wants to admit it or not, there is a serious problem that some members of our religious community face – day in and day out. It could be your chavrusah (study partner) in yeshiva, the guy sitting next to you in shul, or your brother in your very own home. And this is true whether you wear a black hat, a streimel, or a knit yarmulke.

Pretending that there are no frum Jews with homosexual inclinations won’t make the truth go away. It won’t make the internal conflicts they fight with their yetzer hara (evil inclination) disappear.

A significant number of suicide attempts are committed by boys from not just religious but rabbinic homes — because they thought they were homosexual and had no place in the Orthodox world they grew up in, even if they had never acted on those impulses.

A situation where religious Jews are provoking children and adults who are different to consider suicide is unthinkable and unacceptable.

Following the publication of this op-ed, a number of Jewish Press advertisers were approached and threatened. They were told to stop advertising with The Jewish Press. The Jewish Press won’t give in to threats and we won’t be silenced.

We thank our advertisers who have notified us that they plan to continue with us despite the threatening letters and that they won’t give into threats either, particularly when an article like this one may have very well have saved a Jewish life. People can do teshuvah (repent) for many acts against halacha, but what forgiveness can there be for pushing someone so far that he or she would commit suicide?

I agree. What forgiveness is there for those who push others to suicide? Are you listening Bob McDonnell, Victoria Cobb, Bob Marshall, Ken Cuccinelli and others in Virginia who continue to wage a relentless war against LGBT citizens? And as for the Jewish Press, it deserves great praise for its integrity. I doubt you'd see such a stunning editorial from the Virginian Pilot which won't even publish stories exposing homophobes. Rather than have a spine, the Pilot labels such stories as "not newsworthy."

1 comment:

Jack Scott said...

Thank God for guys like Chaim Levin. Thank God for the courage of the Jewish Press for facing down the haters and the bullies.

And thanks to you Michael for posting this very important post.

Jack Scott