By Molly Meisels
On February 28, the Office of Student Life approved an event titled “LGBTQ+ Safe Space,” to be hosted by the Jewish Activism Club on the Wilf Campus. The last time an administrative sanctioned LGBTQ+-themed event was hosted on Wilf was in December 2009, when the YU Tolerance Club and the Wurzweiler School of Social Work co-hosted a “gay panel” featuring students and alumni. The Jewish Activism Club event was approved following the student council abstention of an LGBTQ+ group, the YU Alliance, and the administrative choice not to approve or reject the club. Before COVID-19 shut down the YU campuses, LGBTQ+ and allied student leaders were in talks with the administration, attempting to convince administrative leaders like Vice President Josh Joseph and Dean of Students Chaim Nissel to approve their club. The administration has had a history of rejecting LGBTQ+ groups and events, this includes prohibiting a Gay-Straight Alliance from forming on campus in 2019.
The Jewish Activism Club event was approved on February 28 by the Stern College for Women Student Council and the Yeshiva College Student Association. It was scheduled to take place on Tuesday, March 31 in Furst Hall 535. When submitting the event request form with the Office of Student Life, the Jewish Activism Club described their proposed event as a “safe and open space for a discussion of LGBTQ topics that are of importance to students. All are welcome to attend.”
Even though this in-person event cannot occur because of COVID-19 campus closures, the club counts the OSL event approval as a milestone for LGBTQ+ rights on campus. “During my first year on campus, there wasn’t even a discussion of LGBTQ+ student issues, and now the school approved an official undergraduate club event where students can freely and safely discuss this important topic,” commented Phillip Nagler, YC ‘20, co-president of the Jewish Activism Club. “In terms of activism and visibility, this isn’t going to erase the deeply-rooted homophobia and stigmas that exist in the greater [O]rthodox community, but I think it is a good place to start.” This event would have been one of the first to include LGBTQ+-related words in its title or description since the 2009 panel. Shayna Herszage, SCW ‘21, Beren co-president of the Jewish Activism Club, is disappointed by the cancellation. “The fact that it was cancelled is super disappointing, but I get some comfort in knowing it was an external factor that, if not for that, this event could have happened,” she shared with the YU Observer. “Hopefully we’ll get this kind of chance again when things are normal again.”
Some members of the student council have been attempting to host LGBTQ+-related events with LGBTQ+ student leaders since the start of the Fall 2019 semester. “I’m very proud of all the student advocacy done this year to affect real change at Yeshiva University,” said Leib Wiener, YCSA’s president. “Once school resumes next Fall I can’t wait to see what else can be accomplished.” Elka Wiesenberg, SCWSC’s VP of Clubs, is disappointed that COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in the Jewish Activism Club’s plans, but like Wiener, she hopes “that YU’s LGBTQ community and allies will bounce right back next semester to make this a reality.”
Nagler and the rest of the Jewish Activism Club board have decided not to move forward with a virtual LGBTQ+ event via Zoom due to student confidentiality. “We concluded that having it on Zoom would cause numerous issues. The primary one being that people may not be comfortable having an LGBTQ-related discussion in their homes, where family members can overhear, which takes away the ‘safe space’ aspect of the event,” Nagler said.
Not all students believe that the administration’s approval of the Jewish Activism Club’s event is celebratory. “I think it was a small concession. I think they hoped approving one LGBTQ event done by a non-LGBTQ club would buy them time and good publicity,” said Dov Alberstone, YC ‘20. Alberstone is referencing the administration’s lack of approval of an LGBTQ+ club this semester, instead choosing to leave student activists without club approval or rejection.
At the time of publication, the administration has not commented to the YU Observer on the Jewish Activism Club event approval.