Living as an LGBTQ+ Orthodox Teen

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Living as an LGBTQ+ Orthodox Teen by Rivka Schafer - photo by Sonja Lippmann

The Jewish Link, an Orthodox newspaper, recently published a letter titled “Objections to Two LGBT Bills” in which Rabbi Noson Shmuel Leiter speaks against a bill promoting diversity and inclusion including tolerance in regard to gender and sexual orientation. In his letter, he spoke disparagingly of the LGBTQ+ community and called the “LGBT activist agenda…anti-God.” As a teen in this community who believes strongly in both God and the importance of LGBTQ inclusion, I wanted to share my story in the hopes that this paper’s readers can open their hearts and minds to the struggle LGBTQ+ Orthodox teens face every day.

I first started to question my sexual orientation early in middle school, but I buried my thoughts deep inside. I was scared that my friends would abandon me, worried that I would make people feel uncomfortable, and terrified that I wouldn’t be accepted or loved. I davened that it was just a phase and hoped for a “normal” life. Eventually, I told my close friends, and my worst fears were realized. Some of those friends abandoned me and refused to accept me. I learned not to talk about my sexuality with the friends that stayed because it made them flinch and look away. My parents assured me that they loved me no matter what, but most people aren’t that lucky. I know other teens who were kicked out of their homes, traumatized by “therapy” designed to scare them into being straight, or rejected by those they loved. This type of stigma and lack of acceptance is why LGBTQ+ youth are more than eight times more likely than their non-LGBTQ+ peers to attempt suicide.

By eighth grade, I was so exhausted from concealing my identity that I publicly shared my sexual orientation on a grade chat. Consequently, that was the loneliest year of my life. The school administration tried hard to facilitate an environment that was accepting and spoke to the grade about accepting others regardless of their differences but for some, it seemed my differences were too large to accept. Some classmates no longer inquired about my day, some told me they no longer desired my friendship, and most people stopped inviting me to hang out on Shabbos. What hurt me most of all was not the jokes, teasing, or insensitive comments, but rather the isolation.

There were also those who worked to overcome their biases and show me love, kindness, and support. After some girls refused to room with me on our eighth-grade trip, I remember every girl who volunteered. I remember the girls who spoke out when I wasn’t respected and the girl who would approach me daily to make sure people weren’t being hateful. I am so grateful for all those who spoke up on my behalf and made sure I felt safe. They made it possible for me to stay connected to the Jewish community, despite the isolation. Without the support of those who accepted me, I doubt I could have stayed in this community. Most Orthodox LQBTQ+ teens I know have told me that after the trauma they faced from this community they just couldn’t stay frum, and if Judaism supported such hatred, they didn’t want to be a part of it.

As Hillel once said, the true essence of the Torah is to treat others the way you wish to be treated, and I doubt a single one of you would want to be treated the way LGBTQ+ teens are treated in our community. We are also Bnei Yisrael. We are all striving to be the best we can. Whether or not you agree with Rabbi Leiter, I hope we can all agree on this: No one deserves to feel as alone as I felt. If you can imagine yourself going through the hatred, fear, and alienation we endure every single day, I only hope you can find it in yourself to offer kindness instead of contributing hatred.

This piece was originally published in The Jewish Link.
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