TEL AVIV – Religious LGBT Jews are coming out online in the first campaign of its kind, Israeli news website Ynet reported.
An estimated 44 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender religiously observant Jews are posting photos, names, and sexual orientation in a campaign called “Our Faces.” For many of them it is their first public coming-out.
The campaign is the initiative of Bat Kol, an organization of religious gay women, and Havruta, a men’s equivalent, in collaboration with the NGO Israeli Gay Youth (IGY).
The organizations say they want LGBTs in Israel’s religious community to realize that they are not alone. Daniel Younes, the director of Havruta, said he wants to combat what he calls the stigma and complacency in many religious circles, in which, he says, people brush the issue under the carpet by saying “it doesn’t happen to us.”
In Younes eyes, the campaign is a declaration. “Well then, we’re here! With faces, names, personal stories, and a clear message to all those young people – you’re not alone!” he said. “We experienced what you are experiencing now, but you have a future as religiously-observant LGBTs who are fulfilled and live with love, a partner, and even children.”
A statement on the organizations’ Facebook page reads: “We, gays and lesbians who grew up in religious and ultra-Orthodox homes, know the feelings of loneliness, the alienation, the suffocation. We know the period of discovery and realization that we are a little different from others.
“Like you we were in yeshivas, religious schools, movements, seminaries, the army. Like you we were scared to share our story. But we are here – strong and out in the open – and we invite you to read a small story from our lives that might help you to feel more secure.”
Prior to launching the campaign, a message was sent to religious newspapers with a list of the participants’ names. Since the campaign was launched, users are being encouraged to post photographs of themselves and state which religious schools they attended, as well as their current relationship and family status.
One of the participants, Nadav Schwartz, told Ynet that joining the campaign was very challenging for him. “It’s a little frightening to suddenly think about my photo next to my name going around the Internet,” Schwartz said. “I don’t know where it’ll get to and who will see it. And yes, I’m afraid.”
He continued: “I hope that it will reassure a young person who is still in the closet, who is still afraid and is still unsure in which direction life will take them. I want them to see and understand that it’s possible to live believing in yourself and in the system in which you grew up. I want them not to repeat my mistakes. And most of all, I want them not to despair.”