Today, Haaretz put out a very good piece about being openly gay in Orthodox High Schools. It’s refreshing to see that some schools are thinking about this, even without knowing about specific gay kids in their schools. As I have said so many times before, this is not going away. Schools can’t just ignore it and think that this issue will disappear.
My friend, Elana Altzman was interviewed and she made an excellent point that I don’t think I’ve heard articulated this way before:
If Orthodox high schools do not adopt a more embracing attitude towards gay students and families, there will be another, perhaps unanticipated cost, Elana says. “Rejection in the school undermines their religious commitment. Why should they remain observant and committed when people of authority are using that religion to push them away? What’s at stake isn’t just 5 to 10 percent of the population that happens to be gay,” she said. “It’s their siblings. Add two siblings for each gay student and you’re up to 15 percent of our Jewish kids. Why would we want to lose them? By having schools and synagogues and camps that are supportive, where gay kids feel safe, where they can count on some support, in the long run will help ensure their religious commitment.”
See that’s the thing, it’s not just about the gay kids. It’s about their siblings, their friends, their families, etc. Even more than how they will react religiously, we have to think about the messages we are sending to them and the world at large. As one of my friends is fond of reminding me, the world is changing and even if our kids aren’t gay themselves, they are all going out into a world that is embracing LGBT people in a ways it never has before. If our schools (whether it be teachers, administrators or Rabbis) are giving negative messages about gay people (which sadly some of them are) our impressionable kids may be woefully unprepared for a reality that they need to face. I’m cautiously optimistic that the majority of kids graduating from modern orthodox high schools will be up to date on modern matters like LGBT issues, but there might still be some impressionable kids who take authority from people who aren’t necessarily authority figures in this area. People who posit about the scientific nature of sexuality without any scientific authority. People who take one pasuk in the torah and then decide to run with it to espouse homophobic ideals.
Let’s hope the optimism in this article comes true. Maybe this crossroad that we are at will force people to realize that we need to address this incredible important topic and maybe all our kids: gay or straight , will feel safe in the school environments that will also help them to reach the Jewish ideal that is best for each of them.