I remember the first time I heard about gay people. I was watching a protest for gay marriage and asked someone what ‘gay’ was. “It’s men who like other men. But God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” I was five and had my heart set on marrying Pete’s Dragon, so I didn’t see the problem. I was going to marry my dragon and those people were going to marry who they loved. Win win.
I won’t deny that since then, I haven’t been perfect. While I doubt I was ever cruelly homophobic, I could be horribly clueless to others. I could be insensitive to good people who were generous enough to let me into their life. I hope my apologies and love can slightly make up for the pain I caused them. What bothers me more is that there are so many more who cause them pain intentionally.
The Jewish world of Orthodoxy is not kind to gays. The topic is not discussed in school besides for a few cruel remarks when we studied Leviticus, where it was compared to wanting to marry your dog. I argued then that love was love, but mostly got smirks of pity.
Today, I joked with some religious friends about a gay friend of mine marrying his boyfriend. “I’d go to the wedding, as long as he doesn’t make me the maid of honor. At my age, I’d be the old maid of honor.” My friends snickered and asked who would wear the wedding dress, before shuddering at the pervasions. “They have a choice. Why can’t they just be normal?”
I can’t imagine someone would choose to be an outcast. Surely, a loving God could not condemn people for trying to find happiness and hurting no one. The suffering that LGBT members face is inexcusable. Yes, being gay can be considered against the Torah. Who appointed the community judge, jury and executioner? Jews who violate Shabbat, who don’t eat kosher and who likely do not observe Niddah with their wives are welcome in synagogues. Why should GLBT people be any less welcome?
I send this plea to my fellow Jews that we cannot stand by on the blood of our fellow man. This is literally a matter of life and death. A few years ago, I got into the YU panel on “homosexuality in the community” and one person’s words stood out to me, as a plea: “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have thoughts of ending my life at that time. The whole future, raising a family and raising a family of Jewish existence all melted away.” The thought of this precious Jewish brother, this wonderful and amazing person ending his life destroyed me. If it were just a choice, than he would have chosen differently. Thankfully, he made the choice to accept himself and chose to live. Next time, we might not be so lucky.
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center estimates that between 30% to 40% of LGBT youth may have attempted suicide. That’s around a third or more. So when you teach hatred, when you reinforce homophobia, you have a 1/3 chance of literally being an accomplice to murder. Is that something you really can live with?
This is not an attack against Halacha. We don’t have to compromise our ideals; we just have to accept that no one can ever live up to them. We all fail at being the perfect Jew, but we all try to be the best ones we can be. We can do what we can. We can strive to do as many of Taryag mitzvot as we can. Most of all, we can love our fellow Jews, celebrate Jewish families and accept that we should fix our own flaws before criticizing others.
The next time homophobia is used around you; imagine that young man who had thoughts of ending his or her life. You speaking up might literally be what keeps another Jew alive.
Photo courtesy of Act Now