On a drizzly Monday morning, around a dozen Yeshiva University students came together to counter a demonstration by the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC). In response to the Church’s message that “God hates fags,” the group bore their own signs: “CHOSEN people choose love over hate,” “HATE is NOT a YESHIVA VALUE,” and “LGBTQ students are WELCOME in Yeshiva U.” The counter-protest was organized by several allies of the LGBTQ community, including Mordechai Levovitz of the JQY (who brought the signs) and Asher Lovy. Around thirty-five protesters total were present at the height of the protest, including alumni, activists and students from other schools.
Although the YU administration discouraged direct engagement with the WBC, Mordechai Levovitz explained that, in a school where LGBTQ youth already suffer from stigma and marginalization, not staging a counter protest would be a criminal show of indifference. He also took issue with YU’s choice of response, which was to donate money to the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, an organization that provides a range of services for families and individuals, including mental health services and assistance in cases of domestic violence. “[YU] made this odd equivalence between the LGBTQ community and a mental health organization. The WBC wasn’t protesting people with mental health and mental diseases. [This was] basically conflating LGBT people with the mentally ill.”
Asher Lovy also took issue with YU’s choice of response. “It’s nice that they’re donating money…[but] it’s obvious that YU wants nothing to do with LGBTQ rights. They could’ve donated money to something more on point.” He added, “It would’ve been nice if they donated money to JQY [Jewish Queer Youth] or Keshet.”
However, asked if he thought the choice signaled an equation of LGBTQ and the mentally ill, Lovy said that he “wouldn’t take it that far.” He thought that the choice to donate to the Jewish Board was an attempt to straddle the line between opposing the message of the Westboro Baptist Church and giving vocal support for the LGBTQ community. “I think Doron Levine put it best in his Commentator article…I think, based on Doron’s article, [that] it…would’ve put the more right-wing Modern Orthodox faction in the uncomfortable position of protesting WBC without taking a vocal stand on LGBTQ issues.”
Neither Lovy nor Levovitz spoke to the fact that the response was only endorsed, not organized by, the college administration.
Mordechai Levovitz, who is a social worker and heads JQY, spoke about the amount of support that he found as a YU student when he came out as gay. At the same time, he pointed out the need to improve institutional resources, like the Counseling Center, which he described as both an “incredibly important resource,” and sadly deficient in dealing with LGBTQ issues. “Based on the experience of many students who have confided in me as a social worker, and as the head of an organization, it’s evident that there’s room for improvement in Orthodox LGBTQ cultural competence.”
Levovitz emphasized that it’s “not enough to open a textbook [on LGBTQ issues]… what’s missing is… hearing the LGBTQ Orthodox narrative from the people willing to tell that narrative. They [the Counseling Center] should be engaging organizations like Keshet and Eshel [and JQY], because we have the collective wisdom of fifteen years servicing this community.”
Levovitz also underscored the stakes involved in creating adequate services for Orthodox LGBTQ youth. He recalled one friend who took his own life while a student at Yeshiva University. “This is not something we can afford to be lax about. This is a community whose lives are at stake.”