In 2010, my teachers, Rabbis Nati Helfgot, Yitzchak Blau, and Aryeh Klapper, drafted a “Statement of Principles” on the place of homosexuals in the Orthodox community. The statement was signed and endorsed by dozens of Orthodox rabbis, mental health professionals, and educators. The document was carefully drafted, edited, and revised before publication, and the success of this consensus document can be seen in the list of contributors. The list includes many names of Liberal Orthodoxy’s “usual suspects” but also quite a few names of individuals with significant reputations within the Centrist Orthodox establishment. At the same time, the list generated a fair amount of controversy, even inspiring a reactionary “counter-statement,” which suggests that the statement was sufficiently significant to generate controversy.
In my recollection, the most controversial element of the Statement of Principles was paragraph 7 which reads:
“Jews struggling to live their lives in accordance with halakhic values need and deserve our support. Accordingly, we believe that the decision as to whether to be open about one’s sexual orientation should be left to such individuals, who should consider their own needs and those of the community. We are opposed on ethical and moral grounds to both the “outing” of individuals who want to remain private and to coercing those who desire to be open about their orientation to keep it hidden.”
Some of the critics of the Statement of Principles argued, as I recall, that a benign regime of “don’t ask, don’t tell” could enable gay Jews to join our communities with subtly, but that openly gay Jews should not be integrated into our communities, shuls, and schools.
The New York Times published an op-ed this past Sunday that provides some quantitative support to the assertion of the Statement of Principles that encouraging individuals to be open about their identity and orientation is a positive step for Orthodoxy.
The article by Seth Stephens Davidowitz cites research showing that while the number of openly gay men is greater in regions of the country with greater acceptance of homosexuality, relevant Google searches suggest that the percentage of the population that is homosexual is common among the fifty states (about 5%). The element of Davidowtiz’s article, however, that was most evocative for me was the description of the different Google searches in different parts of the country:
“In the United States, of all Google Searches that begin “Is my husband…,” the most common word to follow is “gay.” “Gay” is 10 percent more common in such word searches than the second-place word, ‘cheating.’ It is 8 times more common than “an alcoholic” and 10 times more common than “depressed.” Searches questioning a husband’s sexuality are far more common in the least tolerant states.”
When individuals are pressured, by their community, to treat core elements of their identity as a shameful secret, the circle of suffering expands, claiming new victims.