*The YU Observer has verified that the writer is a current SCW student.
Dear closeted LGBTQ+ individual, whether you are a student in high school, an undergrad at YU, post college, or in any stage of life, I am writing this to tell you that I see you. I know the pain of being hidden and silenced. I know the fear that comes along when searching social media for just one religious queer couple for you to have as role models and finding no one. While I am not ready to come out publicly yet, it is important to me to let you know that we do exist. I am an Orthodox gay woman in a relationship with another Orthodox gay woman. My life is built around learning Torah and keeping Halacha (Jewish Law) and I hold tradition dear to me. My girlfriend too lives a life of Torah and Halacha, often reading Mishnah Berurah before going to sleep at night.
I know what it is like to not know what your future will look like and to anxiously wonder whether the price to pay for being your authentic self is worth the cost of the future you always imagined. I too planned on marrying a man, too afraid of what I would lose to allow myself to consider the possibility that I was not straight and that I wanted another option. Eventually, after a tumultuous year, I knew I must choose my future and my happiness by being true to myself, otherwise, I would lose myself and waste away in tension, fear and unhappiness.
After beginning a relationship, as some of you must be feeling, I felt the pain and fear of making a decision not condoned by Halacha and felt afraid knowing that it wasn’t enough to prevent me from choosing love and happiness. What kind of eved Hashem (servant of G-d) am I? I asked myself knowing I would always choose my own future instead of living someone else’s, however halachically preferable. I did it because I deserve love, I deserve contentment, I deserve happiness — and so do you. Balancing the struggles of my sexual orientation and knowledge of Torah, Halacha and communal standards is a horrible weight I carry daily, but find solace in the fact I can’t bear to shirk one, either my identity or my commitment to God. I knew I couldn’t be part of a religion that would not allow me to live my authentic life. A community that forces me to throw away love and happiness was not one I could have remained in. So, I chose to stay in my religion and in my communities by choosing to choose me.
I want you to know that you have a future as an LGBTQ+ individual in the orthodox communities. You are not alone, I am here and I am working to get to the point where I can publicly be the role model I wish I would have had. Things may be incredibly difficult and I often wonder why I am still in the orthodox communities. The struggle is real, we all deserve so much more, so why do we stay in a community that offers us so little? I still do not have an answer other than, I am here because it is mine. No one can force me to leave my home.
It gets better. Those words were said to me and I never thought they could be true. I have had ups and downs, but the pain I face now as an LGBTQ+ individual in an orthodox world is nothing compared to the pain I felt knowing that I must live my life as a straight individual regardless of what I was feeling. I have found a supportive community of wonderful people, people whom I relate to and YU and you can too. We can help you find a path forward with continuous and unconditional support. You are worth it and you are valid. I know what it is like to feel so alone and I wish for you to feel that there are people out there that understand some of what you are going through.
If you are a student at YU, I highly recommend reaching out to the YU Pride Alliance at email@example.com. Jewish Queer Youth, an orthodox adjacent organization aiming to provide resources, such as community, mental health support as well as guidance on which Israel gap year programs are queer friendly. These two resources have been incredibly helpful in giving me the tools I needed to accept my identity and find a way forward. The Eshel Welcoming Shul Project offers guidance on LGBTQ+ friendly and supportive shuls. I recommend reaching while trying to find a community as well as taking a look at the other resources Eshel and Keshet offer. Lastly, if you are looking for immediate support call the Trevor Project TrevorLifeline at 1-866-488-7386, or see here for chat or text options. JQY has a warm line at 551-JQY-HOPE (551-579-4673). The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 800-273-8255.