By Eliana Gayle-Schneider
As a pluralistic Jewish institution, Heschel was founded with a commitment to celebrating diversity in every form. One recent concern is the need to create awareness regarding issues of importance to LGBTQ+ members. During the past several years, the school has become a more inclusive space for all gender identities and sexual orientations in concrete ways.
One major step the school has taken is supporting the growth of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA). The GSA works to create a safe space for LGBTQ+ members of the community and a forum for people to discuss equality from both historical and contemporary perspectives. The GSA holds weekly meetings where they discuss issues facing the LGBTQ+ community both within the school and throughout American society. These pressing issues include how to address the bullying and harassment of LGBTQ+ students at Heschel, and how the community can work to make a difference on a national scale. Rabbi Jonathan Klatt, one of the club’s two faculty advisors, noted that “while the school has come far, there still a taboo around the LGBT community, both in general society and here at Heschel.”
Rabbi Jonathan said that a commitment to equality and inclusion is at the core of the school’s mission and that the current student body is responsible for working towards this goal. A school named for Rabbi Heschel must be at the forefront of raising awareness and promoting education and safety for all of its students. It is in this atmosphere that we learn, and in this atmosphere that we build the foundation to lead our lives, in both the Jewish community and American society.
The GSA is just one small piece of the solution to greater awareness. While the school has come far in ways that are real and noticeable, such as making gender-neutral bathrooms available, there is still work to be done. We could go much further in creating a safe space for all students and faculty. Subtle usage of phrases like “that’s so gay” seem unimportant but can still be damaging to school culture and hurtful to individual students and faculty members.
Recently, the GSA held a discussion regarding the current President-elect, his vice-president, and the ramifications that his administration may have for the LGBTQ+ community. Head of School Ariela Dubler was present at the meeting, explaining threats to constitutional protections, the danger of losing reproductive choice, and the power that Donald Trump and Mike Pence now hold with regard to the Supreme Court.
The value and importance of the GSA becomes even greater in current times. By launching new initiatives and allowing GSA to speak periodically in the Monday morning Mabat slot, the school is taking necessary steps towards establishing a safe space for students of any gender identity or sexual orientation. These critical steps help us progress as a community and promote a climate of equality and inclusivity that is inherent to the school’s mission.