“Nothing About us Without Us” – YU and LGBTQ Representation on Campus

We, Too, Are YU’: Students March for LGBTQ Rights at Yeshiva University

Nearly 200 people attended the We, Too, Are YU March for LGBTQ Representation this past Sunday in New York City. Marchers wore “We, Too, Are YU” t-shirts and pride flag pins and carried signs and pride flags with the Star of David as they marched from nearby Bennett Park to the Yeshiva University campus.

Yeshiva University, an institution affiliated with Modern Orthodox Judaism, has struggled to reconcile biblical prohibitions of homosexuality with its increasingly diverse student body. Within Orthodox Judaism, some rabbinic opinions condemn homosexuality while others attempt to offer acceptance and tolerance to religious LGBTQ individuals. Past events at Yeshiva University have reflected both approaches, underscoring the institution’s struggle to resolve the issue of LGBTQ representation on campus.

Although organized by the College Democrats, an official Yeshiva University club, the event was not approved by the university’s Office of Student Life. Two local Jewish LGBTQ organizations, Eshel and Jewish Queer Youth, helped sponsor and organize the event. The College Democrats are demanding permission for a Pride Alliance club and LGBTQ events, a statement from Yeshiva University President Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman condemning homophobic rhetoric, the appointment of an administrator whose role it is to promote diversity on campus, and sessions about tolerance and acceptance of LGBTQ students at orientations.

In a recent statement, Berman wrote that “Yeshiva University strives to be a nurturing and inclusive environment for all our students, ensuring that every individual is treated with respect and dignity.” Berman has put together a committee of rabbis and educators “to address matters of inclusion on our undergraduate college campuses, which includes LGBTQ+.” The committee, he says, will “work on formulating a series of educational platforms and initiatives that will generate awareness and sensitivity and help our students develop a thoughtful, halakhic, value-driven approach to their interactions with the wide spectrum of people who are members of our community.” The statement links to Yeshiva University’s non-discrimination and anti-harassment policy, and says that “the University is committed to ensuring that no member of our administration, faculty, or student body harasses or discriminates against any student or employee.”

Mordechai Levovitz, founder and clinical director of Jewish Queer Youth, noted this statement in his speech at the march. He and other members of the LGBTQ community have criticized Berman for not including any LGBTQ individuals on his committee. During the rally, Levovitz led chants of “nothing about us without us” to protest Berman’s decision.

In the hours before the march, Yeshiva University students, alumni, and staff, as well as representatives from Eshel and Jewish Queer Youth, spoke to a crowd of supporters. Molly Meisels, president of the College Democrats and lead organizer of the march, came out as LGBTQ during the opening speech. “I’m not doing this as an ally, I’m doing this as a bisexual member of the community I am advocating for. I march because I didn’t feel comfortable coming out at YU until right now,” she said, prompting applause from the crowd.

A major frustration within the LGBTQ community is the offensive rhetoric often used by students and professors in classes, particularly those relating to Jewish law. “In my first few weeks at school, I was in a class where the rabbi said that sexual relationships such as incest, bestiality and homosexuality are all sins punishable by death in the Torah,” said Courtney Marks, a march organizer and a student at Yeshiva University’s Stern College, in a speech before the march. “He spoke as if people like me are evil and as if our lives do not matter. This is why I march!” she added, holding back tears.

Molly Meisels (left) and Courtney Marks (right) at the pre-march speeches in Bennett Park. (Credit: Leo Skier)

“I get paid to go to YU,” Joy Ladin, an openly transgender professor at Stern College, told the crowd in her speech. “But queer students are paying to be trashed in classes, to have humanity denied, to have halacha warped around values of homophobia and xenophobia and transphobia, rather than values that recognize that every kind of human being is created in the image of God.”

Ezra Felder, now studying at Columbia University, transferred out of Yeshiva University because of the intolerance he felt as an LGBTQ individual. “It became too much for me to stay in YU as a queer Jew,” he told Moment. “It was really difficult to be in a place where my queerness wasn’t able to be explored.”

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Yeshiva University – its The Gay Straight Alliance Refusal, and a Protest

Yeshiva University – The Gay Straight Alliance Acceptance Refusal and a Protest!

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Today I am proud to be participating in a student organized protest at @yeshiva_university The students, former students and their allies are protesting because the administration has refused to give permission for Gay Straight Alliance (!!!???) and has refused to host queer events. Their demands are as follows.

1. That President Rabbi Berman condemn homophobic rhetoric from faculty (!!??) and students.
2. Events involving LGBTQIA+ issues cannot be denied by the Office of Student Life or anyone else on the basis of them being gay (!!!!!!???)
3. An administrator whose job it is to promote diversity inclusion on campus just as YU’s Cardozzo’s School of Law has.
4. Orientation include sessions about LGBTQIA+ acceptance and inclusion.
5. YU students should be allowed to have a GSA.
_______________________
To any educator (person?) with a shred of dignity or concern for their students this would have happened years ago. On that note I want to say two things about todays protest. (1) The protest has nothing to do with the person harassed me on Sunday (2) I have made person decision to not do LGBQTIA+ activism within the orthodox Jewish space. This is because of my own trauma and I won’t answer any questions about it right now. I made an exception for today because one of the students reached out to me and if we are not supporting queer student organizers then LITERALLY what is the point.

ADDITIONAL READING.

It Feels Like My Own School Hates Me’: Yeshiva University Students Protest for LGBTQ Representation

NEW YORK — Hundreds of Yeshiva University students with rainbow flags and stars of David protested on campus Sunday, demanding better representation of LGBTQ students at the school.

“No more silence, no more fear! You are loved if you are queer!” they chanted in unison outside the university’s Mendel Gottesman Library on 185th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. They held colorful signs and wore custom T-shirts with the slogan “We too, are YU.”

The Yeshiva University College Democrats who organized the rally said that “for far too long, LGBTQ+ students have been forced into the closet by the administration,” and are blocked from hosting events and activities touching on LGBTQ issues.

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Students, Allies and Activists March for LGBTQ Equality

A group of more than 100 YU students, alumni, LGBTQ allies and activists converged on Washington Heights on Sunday morning, Sept. 15 to march for LGBTQ equality and representation at YU. Organizers demanded a statement from President Berman condemning homophobia on campus, approval of LGBTQ-related events on campus, the creation of a Gay-Straight Alliance Club at YU, the appointment of an administrator to ensure LGBTQ equality and an orientation session about inclusion and tolerance.

The march, which was organized by the YU College Democrats Club in conjunction with Eshel and Jewish Queer Youth (JQY) — two noted Jewish LGBTQ advocacy groups — began at Bennett Park with remarks from organizers and advocates. The group then marched to the 185th St. Pedestrian Plaza on YU’s Wilf Campus, where they gathered to chant and sing outside YU’s Mendel Gottesman Library. Following the event, marchers had a pizza lunch at Lake Como sponsored by JQY.

“JQY is proud to support the courageous students at YU who are standing up for dignity, safety, and representation,” said Mordechai Levovitz, a former YU student who serves as JQY’s co-founder and clinical director. “On the ten year anniversary of the historic YU Gay Panel — which JQY was honored to organize — this march is indicative of the amazing progress that has taken place among the student body. We wish the same could be said about the administration, which seems to have regressed to censorship, excluding queer voices from conversations about LGBTQ+ issues, and ignoring students’ requests for meetings.”

Though the event was organized by the YU College Democrats, the university itself did not sanction the march. “Yeshiva University strives to be a nurturing and inclusive environment for all our students, ensuring that every individual is treated with respect and dignity,” President Ari Berman said in a statement, noting the university’s pre-existing anti-harassment policy. Berman noted that prior to the march, he convened a team of rabbis and educators, led by Senior Vice President Josh Joseph, and tasked the panel with fostering initiatives to address matters of inclusion with respect to the YU community, including LGBTQ-related issues.

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