Jewish and Gay Pride – Safe Schools and Communities

This week, the Australian government announced an inquiry into the Safe Schools coalition; an initiative focused the creation of “safe and inclusive school environments for same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, staff and families[1]”. The aim of Safe Schools is one I wholeheartedly support and I hope the inquiry does not undermine this vital work. I do not accept the argument against this kind of work that “it goes beyond education and compels students into advocacy of a social engineering agenda[2]”. Creating spaces that are inclusive and free of discrimination and teaching children to embrace all their peers regardless of differences should be fundamental to education.

This controversy comes at an interesting time for me.  I have been trying to get my head around notions of Jewish pride and how it might be related to gay pride.

One way of looking at pride is to see it as promoting that group, or practices associated with that group as superior to others.

It is undoubtedly wrong to claim that Jews are superior to those who are not Jewish. For example, using the expression “goyishe kop” which means “non-Jewish head” to suggest that because someone is not Jewish they are not clever demonstrates the wrong kind of pride.

However this kind of chauvinism is different to the pride that people develop in response to persecution or discrimination. This, of course is the kind of pride depicted by the phrase ‘gay pride’, a reaction to persecution which asserts a refusal to be ashamed or to hide a characteristic which may make a person a target.

Jonathan Sacks, addressing the topic of Jewish pride tells a story about his father being approached by a fellow congregant at a London Synagogue who thought young Jonathan had forgotten to remove his Kippa (skullcap) as he went out into the street. Jonathan’s dad replied: “no son of my mine will be ashamed of who he is[3]”.

The stress young LGBT school students suffer as a result of prejudice is a matter of life and death for some[4], and for many others a source of great anguish. A social worker and advocate for LGBT people in the Jewish community wrote “I have friends who have succumbed to this hopelessness (caused by the attitudes to LGBT people in the Orthodox Jewish community) and are no longer here to make their case. I know people who are alive today because of the outspoken compassion of the rabbis”[5]. He explains pride as serving to “combat institutionalized shame and re-build a strong sense of self-esteem. This is the true meaning of pride. Pride is about affirming our (collective) self-worth despite the challenges we face.”

But while this kind of pride serves a positive function, there are possible dangers with pride. One Jewish educator suggested to me, that Jewish pride is more important than interfaith respect. His argument was that ‘Jewish children in a particular city don’t have adequate pride in who they are, so showing them how people of other faiths are wonderful might further weaken their commitment to their Jewishness’. I do not accept that Jewish pride should be allowed to become a barrier to embracing the “other”. Research has found that “it is possible to improve children’s attitudes toward a racial outgroup without causing a negative impact on their feelings toward their racial in-group[6]”. We should not resort to reinforcing a weak sense of self by encouraging defining oneself by what one is not. This idea is also extremely applicable to the Safe Schools coalition. Teaching students acceptance and respect for LGBQTI students will not “impose an ideology[7]” or affect the students’ own identities, it will simply help them to understand others’.


By Rabbi Zalman Kastel


 

 

[1] http://www.safeschoolscoalition.org.au/who-we-are

[2] http://www.corybernardi.com/remove_funding_from_safe_schools_propaganda

[3] http://www.rabbisacks.org/rabbi-sacks-on-jewish-pride/ video

[4] http://www.apa.org/pi/aids/resources/exchange/2012/04/minority-stress.aspx

[5] Mordechai Levovitz,  http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/orthodox-gay-and-the-rest-is-private/

[6] Levi, S.R., West, T. L., Bigler, R.S., Karafantis, D.M., Ramizez, L., Velilla, E. (2005) Messages about the uniqueness and similarities of people: Impact on US Black and Latino youth. Journal of Applied Development Psychology 26 p.714-713

[7] http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2016/02/24/pm-orders-review-lgbti-safe-schools-program

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s