: An ally’s experience of Keshet’s Community Inclusivity Training
Last week I attended a training course which was the first of its kind in the UK Jewish community. Twelve people spent fifteen intense hours together split over three days, learning how to better promote inclusion and tackle homophobia and prejudice in the Jewish community. This came about after allegations from JFS students that they had experienced a Jewish Studies lesson as homophobic. While JFS have currently refused to run LGBTQI inclusion training for staff, Keshet wanted to be ready to facilitate it whenever the request comes in. Support came from philanthropist Alex Greenbaum, former Hasmonean pupil, now living in Israel. Through his financial support, Keshet UK was able to arrange for Dr Andrea Jacobs, Director of Education for Keshet (USA) in Boston, to run this seminar in the UK.
There was something challenging and new for everyone in the training. Many participants had not encountered the term ‘cis-gendered’, used for a person whose gender identity matches their biological sex. For example: a person who was considered female at birth, and identifies as a woman. Another term that was new to many was ‘ally’. An ally is a person who feels personally and passionately invested in this cause, though they may not identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Intersex. I am an ally, and I am proud to be one.
‘So why do you care about this so much?’ Given that I was the only heterosexual person at the training, I shouldn’t have been surprised to be asked this a number of times. But it did surprise me, and upset me, and on reflection, it infuriates me. The real question should be: “why doesn’t everyone care?” When I’ve been involved in organisations that work to end slavery, no one has wondered why I, who has never been a slave, would care. Yet I did answer each of the people who asked me, with sadness.
So why do I care? I remember being angry as a student in JFS when a prominent Jewish Studies teacher made an openly homophobic comment. I’d always thought that homophobia was wrong, and believe that Judaism teaches us that we should reach out with acts of loving kindness to those who are vulnerable. But I have also lost two friends in the last two years to suicide. Both of these young people were brilliant and had so much to offer the world. I learnt immense amounts from both of them. I had laughed with them and drank tea with them. I had also heard their stories of rejection, homophobia, transphobia and distress. When a young person commits suicide, there is never one reason, but growing up in a homophobic world makes it much harder.
JFS responded to their students publically stating that they experienced a lesson as homophobic by shushing it away. That isn’t good enough. Not for me, and not for the LGBTQI young people currently attending JFS who are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. Why haven’t they, like so many other schools, developed an LGBTQI inclusion policy? Are our schools waiting for action till the front of the JC has to mourn one of our teenagers, someone who, like my friends, experiences rejection and homophobia?
As the first ‘ally’ on the Keshet steering group, I’d like to encourage anyone reading this to take an active stance in promoting inclusion in their own community. Eventually, we in Keshet, hope that every Jewish school will have its own inclusion policy. Let’s do all we can to make this a reality. Homophobia cannot be ignored, it is real, it is ugly, and it hurts real people. Keshet are available to offer workshops, training for teachers and cheder teachers, community consultations, and to speak to groups of all ages. Let’s take this on openly and constructively. Let’s make sure our Jewish community is a beautiful one; an inclusive one.