As a member of the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) and Jewish communities, I proudly identify with each of these groups. Each have separately, and in some cases, together, provided me with a vibrant and welcoming community, and each has become a spirited and dynamic part of the social fabric of America. In many ways, my two identities complement each other based on their shared values and history. Both communities are socially conscious, politically engaged, committed to equality and have each overcome discrimination to emerge stronger. While I have been a part of the Jewish community since birth, I’ve only realized my part in the LGBTQ community over the last few years. As a result, I have become deeply passionate about ensuring that Jews have a home in the LGBTQ community, and that LGBTQ individuals feel welcomed by the Jewish community.
At first glance, the LGBTQ Jewish community of Boston looks like every other part of the broader Jewish community—thousands are engaged in synagogue life, formal and informal Jewish education, and celebrate holidays. In many ways, the LGBTQ community is an integral and vibrant part of Jewish life in Boston. Boston can even boast that we are home to Keshet, a national organization that works for full LGBTQ equality and inclusion in Jewish life. In fact, while only 3.4 percent of Americans identify as LGBTQ, an estimated 7 percent of Jewish adults in Boston (13,200) identify as such. This demonstrates that the Jewish community in many instances has provided a welcoming environment where Jews can identify as part of the LGBTQ community and live authentically within Jewish spaces.
Many within the Jewish community would be hard-pressed to say they are unacquainted with a member of the LGBTQ community—whether it’s a member of the family, a business colleague or a fellow congregant in synagogue; about 10 percent of Jewish Boston households include someone who is LGBTQ. Yet despite being in many ways no different from the Greater Boston Jewish community, there is one glaring exception: While 31 percent of Jewish households include someone in need of counseling or mental-health services, a staggering 51 percent of LGBTQ Jewish households require these services. Which begs the question: Why is this number so much higher among LGBTQ Jews and how can we, as a Jewish community, ensure we are taking every step we can to address this gaping discrepancy?
Perhaps to those who are not part of the LGBTQ community this number might come as a shock. But to those of us who have faced rejection and ostracization from an early age, this figure might appear underwhelming. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, LGBTQ youth face fear, rejection, isolation and discrimination in schools and their communities, and among friends and family. In many cases this leads to higher risks of suicidal ideation and attempts. LGBTQ teenagers are six times more likely to be depressed than the general population, and struggle with coming out to those closest to them.
I felt this acutely when I was a teenager. I went to Jewish overnight camp each summer from fifth through ninth grade. For many of these years, it was my home away from home and provided me with an enriching experience that left me significantly more connected to Judaism. However, as I got older, I began to feel different from many of the other male campers, and became more and more isolated from them. I finally decided to stop attending summer camp altogether since I was depressed while I was there and the camp was no longer the comfortable place it once was for me.
While this is just my singular experience, data from the 2015 Greater Boston Jewish Community Study demonstrates a larger trend of this. For example, while 15 percent of Jewish households in Boston send their children to overnight camp, only 10 percent of LGBTQ households do. In addition, only 6 percent of LGBTQ households send their kids on an Israel trip, compared with 20 percent of Jewish households overall. What’s most striking is that children attend day camp and are involved in youth groups at the same levels among LGBTQ Jewish households and Jewish households generally. This underscores the point that children from LGBTQ households are significantly less likely to leave the comfort of their accepting home environment to stay overnight elsewhere.
This disparity in the need for mental-health resources between the LGBTQ Jewish community and the greater Jewish community may be having a negative effect on the ways that LGBTQ Jewish teenagers and youth are willing to engage Jewishly. The data analyzed in the Community Study illustrates the importance of having the Jewish community commit to taking substantive steps to ensure that LGBTQ Jews are welcomed into all Jewish spaces, including overnight camps and youth groups, day schools, synagogue life and other communal activities. We must ask ourselves: Are we ready to tackle this issue and ensure that LGBTQ Jews are equally part of the vibrancy of the Boston Jewish community?
Read the 2015 Greater Boston Jewish Community Study here.
This post has been contributed by a third party. The opinions, facts and any media content are presented solely by the author, and JewishBoston assumes no responsibility for them. Want to add your voice to the conversation? Publish your own post here.