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Controversial Organization Brought to AJA to Spark Discussion

School Administration Picks New York-based Jewish Queer Youth (JQY) to Present

Max Goldstein

On Wednesday, January 8th, AJA students from sixth through twelfth grade and faculty heard from representatives of Jewish Queer Youth (JQY). JQY is a New York-based organization that, according to their mission statement, is dedicated to “supporting and empowering LGBTQ youth in the Jewish community.” JQY has drop-in centers across New York for teens and young adults to join support groups, meet with social workers, or simply meet others who they can relate to. JQY aims to help Jewish LGBTQ teens understand that they are not alone.

The student sessions that JQY led were divided into three age groups, so that the content and structure of the session could be tailored to the different levels of maturity possessed by the different grades. Sixth and seventh grade made up the first group; eighth, ninth and tenth made up the second; and eleventh and twelfth made up the third. 

The goal of the sessions was to help inform students, parents and faculty what everyone at AJA can do to ensure that LGBTQ students and faculty feel comfortable and accepted at the school. For example, students were asked to consider how someone who identifies as LGBTQ might feel when they hear another student use the term “gay” as an insult. Students were asked to consider whether AJA was a welcoming environment for LGBTQ students and teachers and discussed ways to allow LGBTQ members of the AJA community to feel more comfortable at school. Students also were introduced to key terms, such as “drag” and “non-binary” as well as issues surrounding the LGBTQ community.

Bringing JQY in to speak with students, teachers, and parents was the culmination of a three-year effort led by High School teacher and Guidance Counselor Dr. Pam Mason and Lower School Guidance Counselor Ms. Sylvia Miller. Dr. Mason and Ms. Miller felt that it was important to bring in an organization to speak about creating a welcoming environment for LGBTQ individuals because a key part of their job is to ensure all students feel comfortable and safe while at school. “That was the only impetus [for bringing in JQY]” Ms. Miller said. “Everything we do [as guidance counselors] is guided by what is developmentally best for this age group.” 

JQY was chosen after a thorough, three year search due to its unique focus on the mental health and well-being of LGBTQ individuals, which was the key issue AJA sought to address. “JQY was the only organization that we found that truly focused on the mental health and well being of students,” Dr. Mason said. “The safety and well being of our students is our top priority.” 

AJA Head of School Rabbi Ari Leubitz shared his approach to bringing in JQY: “There are children, students in our building, who have either identified themselves as LGBT or have not, and they have to feel safe,” he said. Rabbi Leubitz stressed that AJA was not bringing in JQY to make a political or theological point, but simply to make sure all members of the AJA community felt comfortable inside the school building. “There are people who want to make this political, and this is not a political issue for me. There are people who want to have a theological or halachic conversation, and that’s not what we’re dealing with here,” he said. “This is purely an issue of the statistics, [which] are that people who identify as LGBT and do not feel safe in an institution is bad for the institution, bad for the families, bad for the kids.”

By bringing in Jewish Queer Youth, AJA hopes to increase awareness of an issue that, according to a Palette survey, directly affects members of the AJA community. Hopefully, the dialogue that JQY helped initiate will make AJA a more welcoming environment for all students, teachers and parents that walk through the halls each day. 

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