Setting Up ‘Safe Spaces’ for Orthodox LGBTQ Students

Jewish college students at a recent "safe space" seminar. (Photo via The Jewish Week)

Jewish college students at a recent “safe space” seminar. (Photo via The Jewish Week)

Merchav Batuach, a “safe space” seminar for Orthodox students at Stern College, is on the leading edge of a new movement to offer an opportunity for Orthodox LGBTQ students and their allies to explore language sensitivity, networking and other important opportunities, reports Hannah Dreyfus in The Jewish Week.

The project was founded by Stern senior Dasha Sominski last December, and new campus chapters are set to open in the fall at Barnard, Columbia, NYU, Yale and Queens College.

“I heard about the project though social media, and realized it would be a perfect fit for our campus,” said Sophia Adler, a sophomore at Queens College who hopes to launch the training sessions there this fall. The significant Orthodox population at Queens makes it an ideal location for the initiative, she said.

President Obama recently called for an end to reparative therapies aimed at “converting” gay, lesbian and transgender youth, “a method endorsed in certain Orthodox circles,” the article notes.

Unlike the reparative therapy model, Merchav Batuach hopes to promote a model of acceptance. The project, sponsored by Eshel, a nonprofit founded in 2013 to support gay Orthodox adults and their families, received $15,000 from the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York last month; that grant followed on the heels of a $10,000 grant from UJA-Federation of New York in January, according to Eshel’s executive director, Miryam Kabakov.

The recent training session, which attracted about 30 students, included “coming out” role play, in which two students improvised the scene of a student telling his college dorm counselor that he’s attracted to men. After a round of applause, viewers critiqued the scene for instances of insensitivity and brainstormed ways to respond effectively in a real-life situations.

Go to The Jewish Week to read some individual students’ experiences with coming out in an Orthodox community, and to learn just how far they believe LGBTQ awareness and acceptance has come in the Orthodox community.

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