Q&A with Bonnie Rosenbaum on Keshet's Pledge to Save Lives
Today is "Wear Purple Day" or "Spirit Day." It is a global day of remembrance for Tyler Clementi, Asher Brown, Seth Walsh, Justin Aaberg, Raymond Chase and Billy Lucas, the six GLBT youth who recently took their own lives because of homophobic bullying. Today I caught up with Keshet's Bonnie Rosenbaum to talk about the Jewish response and Do Not Stand Idly By: A Jewish Community Pledge to Save Lives.
Q: As I understand it, teen GLBT suicide is not a new phenomenon. Why do you think that it's getting so much attention now?
A: The stats are appalling – nearly one in four GLBT teenagers attempts suicide. And when Keshet surveyed 100 Jewish youth in seven Jewish intuitions in 2007, 91% reported hearing or using “that’s so gay,” a disparaging remark, in Jewish youth settings.
I think the sheer number of young people who took their own lives within a few weeks of each other was a wake up call that young GLBT people do not feel safe and supported. Despite the progress we’ve made for GLBT rights and acceptance, adolescence for many queer kids is still hell. And for the most part, violence directed at transgender and gender variant members of our community is still ignored by the mainstream press. November 20th is Transgender Day of Remembrance. Contact us to learn how your Jewish community can get involved.
Q: How did Keshet decide to create the Pledge to Save Lives?
A: We came into work on the Monday after hearing about the fifth young man in a month who took his own life. We were sickened and outraged and knew that the Jewish community must speak up and make a public commitment to end homophobic and transphobic bullying.
The pledge is only one step in the process. For over nine years, Keshet has been actively working to make the Jewish community inclusive by training Jewish educators, producing GLBT inclusive resources from a Jewish perspective, working with hundreds of rabbis and parents and youth who want to make their synagogues, camps, day schools, and youth groups safer and need support to do so. We will make sure the pledge is just one step of many on the path to full inclusion and equality for GLBT Jews.
Q: Can you describe the response you have gotten so far? How far along are you toward your goal of 18,000 pledges?
A: Overwhelming and inspiring! Since we launched the pledge just two weeks ago, over 4750 individuals and over 625 congregations and Jewish community organizations have signed on. It has the support of the official bodies and rabbinical associations of the Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, and Jewish Renewal movements, major Jewish youth movements, The Jewish Theological Seminary and three other rabbinical schools; Hillel International; Jewish Council for Public Affairs; major philanthropies like The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and The Samuel Bronfman Foundation; Jewish Family & Children’s Service, Jewish Federations, and day schools from around the country. As far as we know, this is the first time the Jewish community has collectively come together to renounce homophobic and transphobic bullying and harassment.
Q: Beyond making the pledge, have you heard of any concrete actions that have recently been taken to stop and/or prevent bullying in schools, synagogues, organizations and communities?
A: We have already heard from rabbis who are giving divrei Torah at shuls around the country about the dangers of homophobia and our responsibility as Jews to work for equality and respect for all. We have heard from Jewish youth group members who are making videos for the Make It Better project. We have heard from teachers at day schools and Hebrew schools who want copies of our Jewish GLBT Safe Zone sticker to post on their classroom doors. We have heard from queer Jews who have been moved to publically share their personal stories of suffering and perseverance for the first time and to send the message to young people in our community that yes, it does get better.
Q: What can members of the Jewish community do, individually, to help stop and/or prevent homophobic bullying, or help a Jewish GLBT teen in need?
A: Here are ten things you can do right now to put an end to homophobic and transphobic bullying.
Find truth in the Torah. Ask your rabbi to give a Dvar Torah (or write your own) about the tragic events of the past month and our responsibility as Jews to speak out and work to end homophobia and transphobia.
Speak out. The next time you hear someone say "That's so gay," tell that person why those words are hurtful and can have disastrous consequences.
Make your support visible. Post a Jewish GLBT Safe Zone sticker in your synagogue, classroom, camp bunk, office, or website.
Take action for equal rights. Contact your legislator to support ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that prevents people from being fired or discriminated against at work for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
Keep youth safe and supported. If you are a Jewish educator or administrator at an educational institution, provide training and resources for your staff on how to create safe, inclusive spaces for GLBT and questioning youth. Help start a Gay-Straight Alliance.
Come out as an ally. October 11 is National Coming Out Day. If you are a straight Jewish community leader, let people know that you are an ally to GLBT people and keep the messages of support coming.
Come out. If you identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, and/or queer, come out and keep coming out. This simple act will help others.
Talk to your children. Middle and high school students witness homophobic and transphobic bullying and teasing every day. Tell your children you support them and that all kids deserve to be treated with respect and kindness.
Tell your story. Whether you are queer or a straight ally, upload a video to the It Gets Better Project and share your story with young people who need to hear your message. Visit the Make it Better Project to see powerful stories about what young queers and allies are doing right now to improve their schools and communities.
Seek support/give support. If you or someone you know is struggling with issues around sexual orientation and/or gender identity, know that you are not alone. Crisis support is available 24/7 through The Trevor Project, 1.866-4.U.TREVOR.
Be vocal about your support for GLBT inclusion – at home, at school, at work, at your synagogue. If you know a teen in need: The Trevor Project (1.866-4.U.TREVOR) offers crisis support and Fenway Community Health (800.399.PEER) has a peer listening line that offers information, referrals, and support.
Bonnie Rosenbaum is the Deputy Director of Communications and Planning at Keshet. She looks forward to the day when we no longer need pledges to ensure that the message of GLBT inclusion is heard everywhere.