A lot has changed since I went to college in the late 1990s. Back then, I used a computer with a black and white screen to type my term papers, no one I knew had a cell phone, and social media as we know it didn’t exist. We didn’t text each other; we visited each other’s dorms. Taking photos required buying film. It seems like a different world.
Jewish life on campus was different too. At my tiny liberal arts school in New England, there was a small but invested Hillel community that created warm ritual observances, high-level learning opportunities, and even a rockin’ campus wide Klezmer Hanukkah Party. But there was no acknowledgement of LGBTQ Jewish existence on campus, no Jewish LGBTQ programming, no visible signs that my LGBTQ friends and I were actively included in Hillel life. Despite the absence of outright homophobia, LGBTQ life and Jewish life on my campus didn’t seem to intersect at all.
Things are different now. This past summer at Hillel’s annual staff conference in St. Louis, 35 colleagues self-organized overnight to discuss how to improve and expand the work that Hillel is doing in this sphere. More and more Hillels are engaged in active collaborations with campus LGBTQ centers, have LGBTQ-inclusive policies and programming, and even support Jewish LGBTQ student groups: Ahava at the University of Michigan, J-BageL at the University of Pennsylvania, Gayava of Columbia, and Hamsa at the University of Maryland, to name but a few.
There is still much work to be done, however. Hillel is working in close collaboration with Keshet to see the day when Hillel’s talented staff and student leaders who care about LGBT inclusion, make the imperative shift move from implicit tolerance to explicit, proactive inclusion. Many campuses still suffer from that same silent divide countless others experienced as students not too long ago – the notion that LGBTQ life and Jewish life are separate, forcing students to choose when they want to prioritize each part of their identity.
It is our sincere hope that the growing partnership between Hillel and Keshet can help support campuses in overcoming that divide and in working toward ever greater LGBTQ inclusion in Jewish life. To that end, we have partnered to create an online Guide to More LGBTQ Inclusive Hillels; we have initiated a thriving LGBTQ and Allies listserv for Hillel professionals to share ideas and best practices (click here to join); we have co-branded a poster encompassing Seven Jewish Values that define an inclusive Jewish community; and we will also share timely online resources to help create programming and raise awareness around LGBTQ observances and holidays, such as National Coming Out Day, Transgender Day of Remembrance, and Pride.
To further support our work, Hillel and Keshet are excited to announce an interactive LGBTQ Inclusion Webinar on Wednesday, February 12, at 2pm EST (11am PST). The webinar will focus on a review of the online inclusion guide and the opportunity to share reflections, ideas, and practical applications for LGBT inclusion in Jewish campus life. Note that there is a limit of 25 participants on the call. Please RSVP here by Monday, February 10th.
It’s clear we’ve moved into a new era of technology that has transformed academic, social, and Jewish life on campus. There are abundant signs of a new era for LGBTQ inclusion as well, and we are eager to take part in continuing to make that change enduring and real for all Jewish life on campus.
Catherine Bell is the Keshet National Program Director and Arya Marvazy is the Manager of Talent Recruitment and Professional Development at Hillel International.