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    Hand Us the Microphone: Voices of LGBTQ+ Jewish Youth

    By Idit Klein–

    Nearly every day, we see alarming news about the latest legal assaults on LGBTQ+ youth, particularly transgender children. While we frequently read news coverage about LGBTQ+ young people, we rarely hear directly from them.

    Rather than share my own perspective on these issues, I decided to bring together several high school and college students who are active in Keshet’s youth programs: Cameron (they/them), 19, a nonbinary first year at Brandeis University and advocate for LGBTQ+ rights issues in Texas; Mark (he/him), 18, a gay first year student at Mississippi State University; Is (they/them), 19, a nonbinary, transmasculine, transgender, lesbian sophomore at Columbia University; and Amanda (she/her), 17, a lesbian senior at Wylie E. Groves High School in Beverly Hills, Michigan. In a recent conversation via Zoom, they offered their thoughts about struggles, hope, and liberation in their lives and visions of the future as young LGBTQ+ Jews.

    Idit Klein: What is it like for you as LGBTQ+ Jewish young people today?

    Cameron: I came from Texas to Massachusetts for college. The difference was stark. In Texas, we didn’t learn about the Holocaust and couldn’t have open discussions about being queer. Now at Brandeis, it is so different. I no longer have to watch my back and watch what I say. I am overwhelmingly affirmed, which makes it feel like I am living in an entirely different country.

    Mark: I grew up in a New York City suburb. Especially in my Jewish community, I felt very affirmed. In other aspects of my life, through high school and even now into college, it hasn’t been overwhelmingly affirming.

    Is: The biggest thing I’m feeling now, especially as a person of color, is the difficulty of living in a world where the central parts of who I am are perceived as a threat, even within my different communities. I feel a lot of anxiety about that, but I also feel joy and gratitude that I get to belong to communities with powerful histories of resilience. I’m excited that I get to be proof of survival in a world that is still violent towards people like me.

    Amanda: My home, my school, and my Jewish community are all very accepting of my queer identity. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality for so many people. It’s extremely important that more people can feel like I do, safe and affirmed, so that they don’t feel like they have to give up their safety in order to be out as LGBTQ+ people.

    Idit Klein: As young, queer Jews, have your experiences changed over time, and if so, what are the people, resources, and experiences that have made a difference?

    Is: I grew up in Miami Beach, so my life here in New York feels very different. Also, I was not raised in a very religious household. As I’ve become a part of queer communities, I have felt more emotionally and spiritually connected to Jewish life. I attend shul almost every Friday night, which is something that would’ve been unthinkable five years ago. I feel like every day I realize more and more how inextricable my queerness and Judaism are to one another.

    Amanda: I completely agree: I started living my truth in the LGBTQ+ community and the Jewish community when I realized that those identities are completely inseparable and make each other better. When I went on my first Keshet Shabbaton, I came home feeling empowered to bring all of myself everywhere.

    Cameron: I struggled to navigate my queer identity and advocate for myself in high school. I struggled to be in front of a room. Eventually, by finding groups that supported my queer identity, I connected with others, especially at the intersection of my queer and Jewish identities. Those became my safe spaces. Since then, I’ve become more confident in my leadership ability, am able to advocate for my needs as a queer and Jewish person, and also work with others on that same journey.

    Mark: For me, it’s a little bit different because apart from very early on, I never felt that my Jewish identity and my LGBTQ+ identity couldn’t coexist. One of the first adults in my life that I came out to as gay was my rabbi. She was one of the people who helped me understand the inextricable link between those two.

    Idit Klein: What should people be doing to better support LGBTQ+ young people?

    Amanda: The legislation that’s being introduced every day in this country is dehumanizing. The goal is to take autonomy away from young people and to make us feel powerless, but we aren’t powerless. I’m the president of my school’s GSA and I interact with adults on these types of issues a lot. So, I say to adults who want to support us: help us organize our collective power and give us a voice. We need you to hand us the microphone and listen to us.

    Cameron: Right. We need to have open conversations and a platform to voice our needs. Generation Z is the most queer generation that has ever existed. We cannot ignore these realities no matter how many times state legislatures attempt to erase our identities.

    Is: I really, really encourage folks to fight against the anti-queer legislation that we are seeing more and more and that especially affects youth. People need to support LGBTQ+ young adults by listening to us and seeing us as leaders. So much of the joy I’ve experienced with other young queer Jews is when people are actually listening to what we have to say and perceiving us as leaders.

    Idit Klein: Each of you exudes so much exuberance and resilience, despite the obstacles the world puts before you. What makes that possible for you?

    Is: I ground myself in queer Jewish pasts and queer Jewish futures. I feel grateful to build intergenerational connections with older LGBTQ+ Jews who have lived through so much, especially the AIDS crisis. I mean, talk about a group of people who embody resilience and survival against all odds. And I am equally moved by working with folks younger than me, and I am a young person! As an intern at Keshet, I have had the privilege of working with incredible young people who have beautiful visions of the future. And so, I’m both moved by history and how far we’ve come, how our people have survived so much against all odds and continue to survive, and how that survival is embodied in queer Jewish youth.

    Amanda: What makes me happy is that there are a million ways to be Jewish and a million ways to be queer. As a queer Jew, seeing queer, Jewish stories being celebrated brings me joy. And being able to work with organizations like Keshet makes me very hopeful for the future.

    Mark: It makes me hopeful to know that there are so many organizations that exist that help to fight for the rights of Jews, queer people, and queer Jews. Working with Keshet and seeing other young queer Jews celebrating their identities gives me a lot of joy.

    Cameron: As Is noted earlier, it is difficult being a queer person, much less a transgender person, but we have made so much progress. We have more representation in the media than ever before. We not only have organizations on the national and state levels prioritizing LGBTQ+ issues, we also have organizations at the intersection of our identities, like Keshet. We are going to soon reach a time where we will no longer have to struggle navigating our identity because we can openly and unapologetically be queer.

    Idit Klein is the President and CEO of Keshet, a national organization working for LGBTQ equality in Jewish life. For more information:

    Jennifer Kroot and Robert Holgate curate the “Out of Left Field” column for the San Francisco Bay Times. Kroot is a filmmaker, known for her award-winning LGBTQ themed documentaries, including The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin and To Be Takei. She studied filmmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute, where she has also taught. She is a member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Holgate, a humanitarian as well as a designer, is dedicated to critical social issues. With his hands-on approach to philanthropy and social justice, he supports the advancement of local and national social causes. For more information:

    Out of Left Field
    Published on March 9, 2023