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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Editor’s note: The editors have verified the identity of this individual, who requested that his name not be shared with the greater community. His concern, that acceptance of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) individuals who live in our community must be given with love as they are fellow Jews, students, shul-goers, friends or neighbors. Whether we approve of the LGBT lifestyle is not relevant. We must love our fellow Jews.

I was educated in Orthodox schools, went to shul every Shabbat with my dad, Israel for a year and college. I always hoped that during college I would find the perfect girl, get married and have that life that all moms wish for their kids.

Yet, I won’t have that life.

I want a family that’s very different from that picture-perfect family. So why write an article about being gay? You may think I am the only one or that it is against the Torah, so what is there to talk about?

There are LGBT people in our community. You don’t hear about us because we are afraid to come out. We all grow up learning that homosexuality is against the Torah, and for some reason this sin sticks out to us as worse than anything else. That makes it difficult not only for us to come out to everyone but to even admit it to ourselves. As a member of the LGBT community, I will be the first to admit it is a Torah issue. But that is something I have to deal with. It is something that if I want I can come to you and talk about. But please, don’t tell me what the halacha is. I know it. I have a difficult enough time dealing with it myself, I do not need you telling me.

Here is my story: I think deep down I always knew. When I was 13, the same way all of my friends started to feel attracted to girls, I was attracted to guys. At first I thought maybe it was a phase. I had all these hormones and maybe it was making me feel this, but it would eventually stop. When I realized it wasn’t stopping, I tried to change myself. That wasn’t working, so I figured when I was older and ready to get married I would change myself. Again, that didn’t work.

One night, I was watching a video of someone coming out, and with tears rolling down my cheeks, I admitted it to myself. I finally admitted that I like men. That was the hardest thing I had ever done. I was taking this part of me, this thing that I hated, this thing I hid for years from even myself, and I finally admitted it. That doesn’t mean I was able to tell anyone else. I figured I still would never tell another person.

I was fortunate, because I became friends with someone who is gay and is open about it. He showed me I wasn’t alone. Not long after we met I told him there was something I wanted to talk to him about. We met for lunch. He knew what I wanted to say but he was going to let me say it. Halfway through lunch he said, “So you wanted to talk to me about something.” I started shaking. I was literally shaking with fear. I always thought shaking with fear was just an expression until then, but no. I was so scared I was shaking. After all this time, I was going to tell someone my secret. He sensed my fear and told me to take my time until I was ready. After what was probably a couple of seconds, but what seemed like hours, I finally said it: “I like men.”

After saying those words, I felt so relieved. I was able to breathe. You know that feeling after holding your breath for too long and you finally get to breathe and it feels amazing to get fresh air?

Not long after I told him, I told my immediate family and friends. My family and most of my friends were really supportive. They told me that I am still the same person and they still cared for me. Some had a more difficult time than others, but I was really fortunate to have such a supportive group behind me.

At my parents’ suggestion, I saw a therapist. It was not to change who I was; it was to accept who I was. I saw this person for a few months and now I am comfortable with who I am.

So, what is the point of me writing this?

One reason is to let you know that there are LGBT people in our Orthodox community, so don’t think there aren’t. And there is a real need to talk about this, and not because it is against the Torah.

Let us deal with it and, as I said before, if I want to talk about the halachic side I will bring the topic up to you. We should talk about this to teach children, students, siblings and friends we are accepting. We need to teach them that they don’t need to hide who they are in fear. We need to work on ourselves also to show the members of the LGBT community that just because someone is LGBT does not mean they can’t be who they are.

The best feeling a person can have is to be able to be themselves and not fear what people will think. A gay person coming out is not a reason for gossip (also a prohibition from the Torah). This topic needs to become normalized so that people do not need to hide in fear. They can be themselves. It is a mental health issue for people to be accepted for who they are.

Our schools, shuls and homes need to become safer spaces. What does that mean? If you are a teacher, tell your students they can tell you anything, including issues they are facing. Be accessible; let students know they can come out to you and you won’t out them to other people.

Our shul rabbis should say that LGBT people are welcome, as are all Jews. They should invite LGBT advocates to come and speak. During “pride” month, when there is a kiddush let it be sponsored anonymously in honor of all the LGBT Jews out there, who may or may not feel comfortable identifying themselves publicly.

Our homes are the most important places to make safe. Parents, please do not make fun of LGBT people. Let your children know it is OK if they are LGBT, and share how important it is to be a good friend if someone comes out to them. Let your children speak with you if they want to discuss a relationship with someone of the same gender. Tell them that if they come out to you that you will accept them.

Many LGBT teens attempt suicide because they don’t feel accepted by their community. Don’t let your child, sibling, student or friend become a statistic. If you are reading this and you or a loved one is LGBT, there are organizations to help. JQY (Jewish Queer Youth) has programs for teens and young adults who are LGBT. Eshel groups support LGBT members and their families. If you are LGBT, know that you are not alone.

I will be honest: the first few LGBT Jewish events will be scary. My first few events I just walked up and down the block a bunch of times until I was able to get the courage to go in. But everyone there was scared at one point. We know what it feels like and we will make sure to help you feel welcome.

To any LGBT person reading this—there are LGBT Jews and we support you. You are not alone.

To our community—become more vocal in your acceptance. We assume you are not accepting until you tell us you are.

I had a friend to help me through this, but not everyone does. You need to tell your students, children, siblings and friends that if they are LGBT it is OK. You don’t know whose life you are saving by accepting them for who they are.

Finally, just because you accept a person who is LGBT into your home, shul or classroom does not mean you approve of it. It means simply that you are accepting a person as they are.

I ask that you help remove the stigma from being LGBT. It is for our own mental health. Don’t let us be part of the suicidal statistics. Acceptance does not mean approval!

The author lives in Teaneck and has requested that The Jewish Link withhold his name.

 Name Withheld Upon Request