To would-be Orthodox protesters against LGBT education: you will lose, and cause even more pain

You may not be aware of it, but you have acquaintances, friends - maybe even family - forced to keep their LGBT identities hidden. All you will do is hurt them

August 07, 2019 15:57

In the course of the next year, the Orthodox Jewish community in Britain is going to face the Irresistible Force Paradox. What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

The “unstoppable force” in question are the government’s guidelines on LGBT education for schools. And the “immovable object” is the Charedi community’s attitude to LGBT issues.

For the last few years, strictly Orthodox educational representatives have been trying to stave off the inevitable, largely by quietly lobbying the government to make religious exemptions when it comes to such education. These efforts have, by and large, been unsuccessful. And some in the Charedi community are losing patience.

Last week, at a public meeting in Stamford Hill, a prominent local politician within the Jewish community described such attempts as having been “too timid”. He called for potential “mass protests and demonstrations” by religious Jews in response to any attempts to ensure that faith schools teach about LGBT issues. In doing so, he was, deliberately or not, recommending that the Jewish community copy the actions of protesters in Birmingham, where parents and anti-LGBT campaigners have been picketing certain schools for months in response to the programme "no outsiders", launched to promote LGBT equality and challenge homophobia.  

To mimic such protests would be a terrible idea.

Let me be very clear, to avoid all doubt. I am not saying that holding such protests would be wrong simply because it would present the Jewish community in a terrible light – although this would undoubtedly happen as well. I am saying that holding such protests would be wrong because the attitude towards LGBT people in the Charedi community is deeply, deeply wrong.

The strictly Orthodox position tends to be put forward as follows: The Torah unequivocally describes two men engaging in sexual acts as “an abomination”. Therefore, it is posited, the normalisation of LGBT relationships in an educational context - whether including them in a general discussion about sex education or indeed even acknowledging that there are families in Britain where both parents are of the same sex - is utterly unacceptable. It is not, those who say such things will often take pains to stress, that they are homophobic – perish the thought! They just do not wish for their children to be exposed to such ideas.

That word “exposed” is often used in this context. And it is a telling one. “Exposed” suggests a weakness or vulnerability taken advantage of by those who wish to cause harm. There is also much talk about the need to protect the “purity” of such children. The extremely unsubtle indication being, of course, that LGBT education is impure.

Perhaps some people in the Charedi community will be surprised to hear this, but there are among you, even now, frum LGBT Jews. They may be davening in your shul or learning in your shtiebel. They may be shopping for Shabbos alongside you in one of our kosher supermarkets. They dress like you, talk like you, laugh like you, feel pain like you. And they are simultaneously living their lives knowing that if they publicly admitted being who they are, they would be immediately ostracised and rejected – by you. At best, they would be encouraged to seek help or “therapies” for their “problem”.

The courses of action such people have are limited. Firstly, they can continue to live as part of the Charedi community, keeping that part of themselves hidden and locked away. I know a number of people who do this.

Secondly, they can decide to reject orthodoxy, often an extremely painful step, so they can live openly as LGBT individuals. Again, I know people who have taken this route.

There have also been cases - terrible, tragic cases - where frum people have taken their lives, citing their inability to reconcile their LGBT status with their orthodoxy as one of the reasons for this awful, desperate decision. 

So unbelievably toxic is the attitude towards LGBT issues within parts of the Charedi community that last year, a school in London was found to have blotted out references to “homosexuals” in history textbooks describing the victims of Nazism.

The work the Chief Rabbi has done with Keshet UK, the Jewish LGBT charity, to provide LGBT guidance for schools, was rightly praised when published last year. But the sad truth is that outside of the United Synagogue, the Chief Rabbi has little authority among strictly Orthodox Jews. Any recent attempt by rabbis to provide a more welcoming space for LGBT Jews within the Orthodox community has been met with furious backlash.

Rabbi Joseph Dweck came close to being forced to resign from his role as senior rabbi of the S&P Sephardi community after speaking positively about greater social acceptance of homosexuality.

And in June, a video in which a North West London rabbi answered questions from schoolchildren and called for a much more understanding attitude to LGBT Jews was abruptly deleted from the Orthodox video channel which had published it.

This reaction to such rabbis also gives the lie to the claim that the primary issue with LGBT education is age-related. If such people had their way, no age, from zero to 120, would be deemed appropriate for such education. Similarly, the claim put forward at last week’s Stamford Hill meeting, that “we can teach children to be tolerant towards other cultures and lifestyles… without having to spell out what they are” is ludicrous in the extreme. Bigotry stems from a lack of education – and refusal to even mention homosexuality in a context of equality hardly suggests “tolerance”.

Finally, a word of warning to all would-be protesters. The key aim of your demonstrations – to reverse government policy on LGBT education - will be unsuccessful. In fact, such protests will only serve to harden any government's stance. Such protests will also do nothing to prevent any of your children who are LGBT from feeling the way they do.

All your protests will do is make those hidden LGBT individuals within the frum community feel even more helpless, even more scared and even more despairing about their future. You will not win. You will only cause even more pain and anger than already exists.

August 07, 2019 15:57

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