"Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants, electric light the most efficient policeman," was a quote by Supreme Court Justice, Louis D. Brandeis referring to the benefits of openness and transparency. And this week, the Orthodox Jewish community was bathed in its own sunlight.
On Tuesday night, December 22nd, Yeshiva University and The Wurzweiler School of Social Work hosted a symposium titled "Being Gay in the Orthodox World." It was the largest turnout which the school of Social Work ever had. Some estimates were as high as 800, with many more clamoring to get into the hall.
The event itself was important. It proves that Yeshiva University is truly an institute of higher learning in that it has allowed controversial issues to be made public and debated in a calm and respectful manner. The institution deserves a tremendous amount of credit and respect for its courage.
But there is something greater than the event itself. It took a tremendous amount of courage for those four young men to stand before the entire world and tell their story. In spite of the fact that Rabbi Blau, the symposium's moderator, asked that the event not be recorded or transcribed, within 24 hours, there was a written transcript and a video of the event.
What a way to be outed!
I have a friend who is a YU grad and a practicing rabbi. I asked him what he thought of the event. This is what he wrote to me....
"The importance of the panel was, it is now, in some form, publically acknowledged there are gays at YU and other places and at least in that forum, they want people to know their struggle. It was gutsy to go public for the panelists and Rabbi Blau. All they asked for was the recognition of the struggle, and that they want to be part of and certainly, practice in, the Orthodox community. And if their voices open up doors for others, and relieve needless suffering among parents and kids, then something major was accomplished.
It may be hard for the parents, but they do not have to hide. Their children's story have been told.
The challenge is the real anguish people have endured in coming out. I do not know how to balance it, but it's better for everyone to be public and not underground. And make some room for those who love Judaism, are committed to it, and also just want to be respected for who they are and not as pariahs."
We heard about the symposium the day after it took place. A woman came into my wife's store and told her about the event. This woman had never been in the store before, but she had heard from her daughter that our son is gay.
Just before I started drafting this particular post, I emailed my son and asked him what he has heard about the symposium. He said he is receiving emails from people who heard about the symposium and want to know how to deal with telling their parents.
Halakha is not the issue here.
The issue is how to find a place in the community for people who want to be in the community. The fact that my son is being asked how to cope and deal with parents is a sign that these "kids" still want to be "our" kids. They don't want to be pushed away or shunned by their parents. All they want is to be understood and loved.
Brandeis was correct.