The Jewish Press ran a piece by Elliot Resnick in their June 17th issue in which the author accused gay Jews of being "self-indulgent" and "shameless" for being openly homosexual, referring to the "It Gets Better" video on YouTube that was put together by a group of gay Jews. One of those gay Jews, as Resnick discovered, was a former camper of his, whom he nicknamed "Dovid." The full article can be read here.
In his article, Resnick rhetorically asks, "Why must you publicize your orientation for the whole world to know?" He is insinuating that it would be preferable for gay Jews to keep their sexual orientation a shameful secret rather than remove the miserable shackles of remaining in the closet. The logic here, I'm sure, is lost on Resnick because if he believes that one's sexual orientation isn't something that the world should know, how would he apply that to heterosexual Jews? He says, "Don't tens of thousands of Orthodox teenagers and young adults - to say nothing of older men and women who never married - struggle silently with their attraction to the opposite sex?" But how is that comparable? He is comparing a gay Jew who would keep his sexual orientation a secret to heterosexual Jews who do not talk about their struggles being celibate. But there is a major difference. First of all, heterosexual Jews are not made to feel ashamed of having feelings for the opposite sex. Nobody would chastise a heterosexual Jew for revealing that he/she is attracted to someone, or to a certain type of person, whereas Resnick believes that gay Jews should automatically just not talk about their attractions. Resnick fails to draw the line between attraction and sexual activity. Heterosexual Jews are not keeping it a secret that they are attracted to the opposite sex; why should gay Jews? Last time I checked, it is not a sin to be attracted to someone. It is also not a sin to discuss one's struggles. Why does Resnick think then that gay Jews should be shamed into silence?
And as a reader commenting under the nickname "Another Frum Gay Jew" pointed out, "It is not comparable to the heterosexual attempting to be celibate, because while that may be physically just as difficult- emotionally it's a whole different ballgame- with rejection from the family and the community, and keeping a secret that they can never discuss, feeling like they never fit in because all their friends are talking about marriage and women and who they are and are not attracted to- and the homosexual either has to say quiet, or worse, lie, for their entire lives."
Resnick's approach doesn't solve any problems; it only creates them. It creates an atmosphere of shame and suffering for gay Jews and it makes them feel unwelcome in the Orthodox community, even if they are committed to Judaism. Resnick asks about gay Jews, "Why can't they struggle silently and heroically as do so many others?" But I have a better question. Why should they? The "It Gets Better" video that Resnick was reacting to was done as a response to the bullying and the suffering that gay Jews have experienced. It was a message to other gay Jews that they do not have to despair or take desperate measures as so many others have done. As another reader explained about the video, "There was no mention of sex, or even dating -- no indulgences of any kind. The problem is not struggling with sexual attraction, but rather harassment, discrimination, violence, contempt, condemnation and ridicule and consequent fears of disappointing themselves, their friends, their families and G-d." And yet Resnick wants gay Jews to remain silent. Does he not realize that silence can mean more suffering and even death?
Resnick goes even further by making the following accusation: "But many Orthodox homosexuals seem uninterested in attaining spiritual greatness or in struggling with their feelings like so many of their brethren." He has no idea what gay Orthodox Jews have to go through on a daily basis, and yet he has no problem accusing them of being "uninterested in attaining spiritual greatness"? I know gay Jews who are committed to the Torah and work as hard as they can to reach greater spiritual heights. Why does Resnick assume that one's sexual orientation determines one's spirituality and that if an individual is open about his/her sexual orientation then they are uninterested in growing spiritually? It is an illogical and hateful accusation.
Resnick ends the article by labeling "Dovid" as having "descended down the wrong path" and calling for the community to prevent other individuals from doing the same. The wrong path? If Resnick is referring to the fact that Dovid openly acknowledges that he is gay, then accusing him of going down the wrong path is ridiculous, which should be clear without explaining.
Shortly after the article came out in The Jewish Press, "Dovid" published a response on FailedMessiah.com under his real name, Chaim Levin. In his response, Chaim addresses the issues raised in Resnick's article and sends a message of hope to other gay Jews who are struggling within their communities. Please read what he has to say here.
There is so much left to say about this topic (in future blog posts), but for now I will end off by reminding that not a single one of us is perfect or keeps every commandment of the Torah as we should. We all have areas in which we slip and fall, which we find difficult to keep. I know I do. Instead of going around and judging other people for their sexual orientation (which is not a sin in and of itself), we should focus on improving ourselves and doing what we can to be better Jews. Being hateful towards people who are suffering in the Jewish community is not the answer. Making our communities places where gay Jews can feel safe and comfortable is, however, a step in the right direction.