By YU Observer Staff
On September 15th, a few hours after LGBTQ+ students and allies marched for equality and representation at Yeshiva University, three anonymous students hung LGBTQ+ awareness and sensitivity signs in the bathroom stalls of Stanton Hall (245 Lexington Avenue) on the Beren Campus. The next day, the majority of the signs were torn down, leaving LGBTQ+ community members and allies frustrated. Courtney Marks, one of the LGBTQ+ march organizers and an openly queer YU student, says, “It is common that when people are forced to acknowledge their bigotry, they get [defensive]. I hope that while the signs [were] still up, it opened up one person’s mind… or showed one closeted student that they are not alone.”
On the rainbow-colored signs were quotes from LGBTQ+ students, both closeted and otherwise, and their allies. The 52 quotes covered topics including the importance of education on LGBTQ+ issues, the gradual nature of progress, and the insensitivity of debates about the existence of queer students at Yeshiva University. Allies on campus were disappointed that the signs were torn down. Shayna Herszage, SCW ‘21, says, “People are trying to give a voice to an already existing community on campus. In tearing down the signs, the presence of an LGBT+ community isn’t being prevented. They are no more or less present than they have always been, they are only becoming harder to ignore.”
The Beren student who created the signs did so because she recognizes the “incredible things” LGBTQ+ students and allies were saying in the lead-up to the march (and at the actual march itself). However, she says she knew that only a self-selective group of YU students were listening. “Most of the student population doesn’t have any exposure [to LGBTQ+ people] so they are only hearing about the outrage or other inaccurate information about what we’re trying to do,” she stated. “I thought it was important to get the word out there to the general student body… to help them recognize us as students… and real people.”
The organizers do not believe that the signs were controversial. One Allied quote read: “Many of my friends are gay. That doesn’t make them less Jewish. That doesn’t make me gay. That doesn’t make me love them less. It just makes them gay.” The quotes by LGBTQ+ students pleaded for the YU administration and the student body to recognize them. “We have existed for as long as the Torah itself,” one said. Elka Wiesenberg, Vice President of Clubs for the Stern College for Women Student Council, commented to the Observer after reading some of the signs: “Being gay does not change a person’s value and does not diminish the fact that the person is a child of G-d. There is no excuse for treating gay people as anything less than that. Taking down flyers about awareness is wrong, no matter what it’s for.”
The organizers chose to hang the signs in Stanton Hall bathrooms as opposed to constructing a mural in the lobby because they believed it would last longer. The lead organizer tells the Observer: “I didn’t think they’d be forcibly taken down… If people were passive, they would leave them up and ignore them. You have to be antagonistic to tear them down.” She now wonders if the signs would have been torn down had she posted them mural-style in the lobby, which was her original plan.
Murals for social justice causes have been posted around YU before. In 2017, students on the Beren Campus hung a mural in Stanton Hall protesting the Trump administration’s immigration restrictions and students on the Wilf Campus did the same in the Gottesman Library. Two weeks later, the YU Feminists Club hung a mural about the existence of sexism at the University on the Wilf Campus.
However, the LGBTQ+ awareness signs were kept in the bathrooms and a few were hung in more visible spots around campus. One of the last remaining signs hangs on the ninth floor of Stanton Hall, where construction is taking place and less students congregate. The sign, pasted down with construction tape placed by workers on the floor, highlights a quote from Sarah Graff, a YU alumnus: “One thing I have noticed in my life is the importance of community… There are a lot of components that affect life as someone who Jewish and LGBT. Of course it makes sense that these people with so many common experiences want to get together and talk about it.”
Photo: One of the quotes in a Stanton Hall bathroom stall before it got torn down.