June is Pride Month across the globe. Typically, when we think about Pride, we think about rainbow flags, parades and activism. But we also hear a great deal of people express interest in being “allies” of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQIA+) community. What exactly does that mean? Is saying you are an ally enough? Are you required to take a more active role in order to be considered someone who supports a particular community? If so, what are you meant to do?
Many have found themselves feeling confused and worried about taking the “correct” steps in this situation and ensuring their steps are meaningful and make an impact. One area that needs a tremendous amount of care is mental health. We know this country is experiencing a mental health crisis, and the LGBTQIA+ (also referred to as GSD, for gender- and sexually diverse) community has been hit especially hard by this.
In our mental health and Jewish values workshop, we talk about ways we can apply the Blue Dove Foundation’s core values, or middot, to ourselves and how we can support mental health in our communities. We can use what we call our mental health middot to become better allies and to support those who see themselves as gender- and sexually diverse as they struggle with mental health.
B’tzelem Elohim: Created “in God’s Image”
Any conversation about mental wellness must begin with the foundational recognition that every person deserves dignity and respect, in that all human beings were created b’tzelem Elohim (Genesis 1:26)—in God’s image. Additionally, when they ate from the tree of knowledge, Adam and Eve were said to be endowed with true awareness of the world around them and their own selves. When it comes to learning and human nature, awareness can lead to either a positive or negative destination. How we think about other people—whether or not we expand our awareness of their culture and unique personalities or base our thoughts and perspectives on stereotypes, misinformation and fear—can have drastically different consequences for our interactions. Learning accurate information about people we want to understand (both through reputable sources and from the people themselves) shows them the dignity and respect they deserve.
Pikuach Nefesh: Saving a Life
According to studies completed by the Trevor Project:
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 10 to 24 (Hedegaard, Curtin, & Warner, 2018), with LGBTQIA+ youth being at significantly increased risk.
- LGBTQIA youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers (Johns et al., 2019; Johns et al., 2020).
- The Trevor Project estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQIA+ youth (13-24) seriously consider suicide each year in the United States At least one attempts suicide every 45 seconds.
Without proper engagement and attention, the mental health concerns of those who identify as LQBTQ+ can be deadly, and Jewish law places great emphasis on saving lives. According to the Mishnah, whoever saves a life saves the world.
By making people feel safe, we affirm life and validity in them. We can do this through such things as making sure we use and ask for appropriate pronouns both in speaking to or about someone as well as in forms and literature addressed to the community. By taking actions that contribute to change and equality, we increase the chance that all people around us feel equally valued
Nosei B’ol im Chaveiro: Sharing a Burden with One’s Friend
Beyond the idea that all Jews are responsible for one another (kol Yisrael arevim zeh la zeh), the rabbis teach the value of supporting another person (Pirkei Avot 6:6). The Bible includes a story of a special friendship between Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi. When faced with struggles, Ruth urges her daughters-in-law to turn back to their own land, their own people and their own gods. But Ruth refuses, saying to Naomi, “Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16). Together, Ruth and Naomi confront many difficulties but are able to overcome them, because they support each other, exemplifying the middah nosei b’ol im chaveiro.
Listening, truly listening, to the stories of others is one of the best ways to support someone who may feel marginalized and misunderstood. Refer to the following guidelines for active listening in an affirming way:
- Look at the speaker directly.
- Put aside distractions, both internal and external.
- Don’t mentally prepare a rebuttal.
- Let them finish completely before responding.
- “Listen” to the speaker’s body language.
Lifnei Iver: Before the Blind (Inclusivity)
The Torah says, “You shall not curse the deaf nor place a stumbling block before the blind.” (Leviticus 19:14). There are many pieces of Jewish teaching that consider the figurative implications of not harming those in vulnerable positions, whether they be do to disabilities (deafness and blindness) or disempowered positions (the widow, the orphan, the stranger). It is our responsibility to do our best to create a community that meets the needs and celebrates the value of everyone. Rather than looking at a disability or mental illness through the lens of handicaps, we can uphold this value by seeking to ensure all individuals are able to participate fully in the community.
In the work you do and the role you take in the community, it is important to follow an inclusive and informed approach. Reviewing documentation to remove heteronormative language, including GSD options in forms, asking pronouns and including them on name tags, etc., are ways to remove barriers in a meaningful way. Refer to these guidelines:
- Be a listener.
- Be open minded.
- Be willing to talk.
- Be inclusive and invite LGBTQIA+ friends to hang out with your friends and family.
- Don’t assume all your friends and co-workers are straight. Someone close to you could be looking for support in their coming-out process. Not making assumptions will give them the space they need.
- Anti-LGBTQIA+ comments and jokes are harmful. Let your friends, family and co-workers know you find them offensive.
- Confront your own prejudices and bias, even if it is uncomfortable to do so.
- Defend your LGBTQIA+ friends against discrimination.
- Believe all people, regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation, should be treated with dignity and respect.
- If you see LGBTQIA+ people being misrepresented in the media, contact glaad.org.
Tikkun olam refers to the Jewish value of repairing the world or making the world whole again through acts of social change. It focuses on social justice and communal responsibility—what can we, as human beings, do to make this world a better place? The Torah says, “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” (Deuteronomy 16:20) From this we understand that all human beings have ownership of and accountability to others. This can serve as a roadmap to becoming truly effective allies—during Pride Month and all year round—and engaging in the work of repairing the world, tikkun olam.
By Jaime Glazerman
*The translations used in this article are provided by sefaria.org.