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OPINION: Not as Advertised

Zach Mainzer

I definitely received the message that the presenters from JQY wanted me to understand. But at the same time, I remember leaving the presentation contemplating messages completely different than the ones I was anticipating. Per AJA leadership’s emails to parents and students, these presentations were “research-based sensitivity training”  and “educational anti-bullying workshops.” These all sound like unbiased, unopinionated activities meant to create a more friendly and welcoming community in the school. Even though it was to be delivered by a group whose name is politically charged and subject to many objections, the school’s leadership determined that Jewish Queer Youth was the most qualified group to attune students to become more sensitive and inclusive (without entangling religion or politics into their presentation).

“This discussion was part of a pointed, biased presentation that contended that we must acknowledge, accept, and celebrate that one’s biology, identity, and expression are unique and independent of one another.”

This description perfectly summed up the last five minutes of the program. The presenter’s parting words to the students included some practical advice for accepting others for whom they are. The rest of this program was more explanatory in nature and adopted such a tone for presenting ideas that are hotly debated by people across the political spectrum. The program dove headfirst into the ins and outs of the ideology behind the LGBTQ movement. Granted, there was a message about respecting other people and the parts of their identity, and a portion of the program also guilted the student body into recognizing that the school could be more accepting and empathetic. However, it also included an explicit discussion of human anatomy as a segway to a barrage of contentious claims. I was totally unprepared for such a graphic discussion, as were many of the friends and teachers with whom I discussed this presentation afterward.  

 This discussion was part of a pointed, biased presentation that contended that we must acknowledge, accept, and celebrate that one’s biology, identity, and expression are unique and independent of one another. The presentation included a particularly controversial line that biological sex was nothing more than a doctor’s best guess at what a baby’s gender identity will actually be. As we passed that part of the presentation, I could not help but wonder whether that claim was actually a fact, especially since I believe that biological sex is more concrete and can be easily ascertained. This among other claims were presented as indubitable facts, even though they are subject to disagreement among AJA students and certainly among the global population.

Even though they were presented as such, these ideas are not equivalent to the “research” that was supposed to underpin the sensitivity training. The minor sensitivity component of the presentation revolved around understanding and accepting these quite contentious claims. Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with the message offered by the presentation, inculcating the student body with factual presentations of such contentious claims is a far cry from an anti-bullying workshop. 

To be honest, the presentation’s final message of being sensitive to and accepting people for whom they are is critical for our understanding of the world around us. In this regard, the presentation definitely trained the student body about sensitivity. However, the means through which the presentation reached this point (which took most of the time) based itself on some highly debatable claims about the nature of gender and sex. This portion of the presentation validated my concerns when I initially heard that JQY would be coming to present to AJA students. The message of the last couple of minutes was the most vital part of the presentation, but the way we spent the other 85 minutes packed into the Beit Midrash was in no way as advertised.

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