I had been wanting to create some sort of LGBTQ alliance club, but never had the guts. So when the JQY program came around, it was almost relieving that I wouldn’t have to muster the courage. Yet despite the relief, I found myself confused. The notion that a Jewish modern Orthodox school had prepared pro-LGBTQ programming seemed unfeasible. LGBTQ-based conversations rarely came up in class discussions and no students appeared to be making an effort to start any.
I understand that the program was mainly an introduction of several topics: Much time was spent defining LGBTQ, sexuality, gender identity, and gender expression for the 8th grade and High Schooler students. For students who have little to no knowledge of LGBTQ, this foundation is an essential first step to becoming more knowledgeable on how to be more sensitive regarding LGBTQ topics and students.
Although that is important, I do wish we had touched more on sensitivity and tolerance. The school went straight from radio silence about anything LGBTQ-related to this sudden influx of information on such a controversial topic, and that can be a lot to handle. Students should be taught how to properly respond should, for example, their friend come out to them. Learning not to alienate their peers, intentionally or not, should have been something discussed during the presentation.
Another minor criticism I have is the religious aspect of the program. As neither of the two presenters hold any rabbinical authority, I could see how many students questioned the reliability of their statements when they mentioned the Jewish aspects of LGBTQ. For example, when the topic of how Judaism doesn’t permit homosexuality arose, they subsequently countered it with something along the lines of “the halacha has a lot of gray area.” In my opinion, that somewhat weakened their ethos and made them less reliable because they were indirect and seemed to be avoiding the topic. When speaking to such an impressionable audience, the presenters should try to be as direct as possible and not give information at could be misleading or confusing.
“The school went straight from radio silence about anything LGBTQ-related to this sudden influx of information on such a controversial topic, and that can be a lot to handle.”
While some may have found the presentation to be controversial, I see the JQY program as a very important and progressive step for our school as a whole. This program helped inform students, teachers, and parents about LGBTQ, which is somewhat taboo in our modern Orthodox high school. Not only is it necessary for conversations like this to be initiated just in terms of education, but it also sends the message to the community that AJA stands with its students regardless of gender identity or sexuality — AJA will not allow bullying and homophobic language to be tolerated. AJA wants its students to feel like they don’t have to be afraid and wants to show them that they care. Our LGBTQ students deserve to feel seen, closeted or not. I’m fairly confident in saying that this is the effect the JQY program will have on the students if we continue to foster this relationship — a sense of care in the AJA community that I don’t think we’ve fully reached just yet.
Overall, I am very appreciative to the AJA faculty and the JQY presenters for making such a program happen and starting conversations that would have otherwise most likely gone unspoken. I wish for more programming in the future with JQY and hope AJA continues to create a strong bond with this incredible organization.