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April 19, 2012

I’m Coming Out of the Closet!

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Last night I spoke on a campus interfaith leader panel about the subject of LGBT and religion. One of the questions we were asked was, “When did you come out of the closet or when did you come out as an ally?” As the only heterosexual panelist, I announced: “I’m coming out right now!” I’m coming out of the closet right now as an Orthodox rabbi who is a proud ally with those of LGBT orientation. 

The suffering is immense. Interfaith leaders and students on campus shared stories about suicide attempts, being forced into reparative therapy, kicked out of the home, shunned from their faith, and completely alienated from family. Consider these statistics concerning LGBT youth:

  • 26 percent who come out to their families are kicked out of their home, and up to a third are beaten
  • They comprise between 20 to 40 percent of all homeless and runaway youth
  • Those who come from a highly rejecting family are 8 times more likely to commit suicide than those who come from a more supportive family
  • They are up to 4 times as likely to attempt suicide as heterosexual youth, and 30 percent of all whose suicide attempt results in death.

I began to wonder if I was failing at making myself accessible enough to students with this struggle. This is more than just a human dignity issue, it’s a life-and-death issue.
Other panelists explained almost as a mantra that “G-d is love and so all forms of love are good.” Judaism is more legally and philosophically complicated on this issue, but it is not so complicated that we should abandon our most basic moral compass. As a rabbi, the possibility of shunning another for not obeying the specific traditional Jewish prohibition against homosexual acts is far trumped by the imperative to value and affirm the sacred dignity of every person.

One of the most crucial roles of faith leaders today is to go beyond our comfort zones and courageously expand the size of the tent of who is included, or at least not harassed, in our communities.

Last night UCLA gay students learned together. Today, UCLA Jewish students commemorated Yom HaShoah (the Holocaust Remembrance Day). Do we only show up for our own? We must fight together against hate wherever it emerges. When anti-Semitism emerges, non-Jews must speak up. When homophobia emerges, heterosexuals must be active. I stand in solidarity with those in struggle since Judaism values struggle and mandates that we support one another in our different struggles. If we truly value the human dignity of all people, then we must put our money where our mouth is and come out as allies. We cannot just be passive or quiet about this commitment. There is no political or theological reconciliation to be done to hold this basic moral commitment. I am an Orthodox rabbi and I am an LGBT ally!


Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Director of Jewish Life & the Senior Jewish Educator at the UCLA Hillel, the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, and a 6th year doctoral candidate at Columbia University in Moral Psychology & Epistemology. Rav Shmuly’s book “Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century” is now available on Amazon. In April 2012, Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the most influential rabbis in America.

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