Thursday, January 7, 2010

QNOC Digest 2010.01.03

Queer News On Campus [QNOC] Articles Digest
For the week ending 2010.01.03

Brought to you by the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals.

Archives of the QNOC Digest can be found at

Reminder: If you come across articles that should be included in the digest, please email a link to the article to

1. The Jerusalem Post - Fallout from gay debate rocks YU
2. National Post - Gay Muslim scholar shunned by own community
3. Murder of a gay African American IU faculty member

1.The Jerusalem Post, January 1, 2010
80 Wall Street Suite 715, New York, NY 10005
Fallout from gay debate rocks YU
By E.B. Solomont

A recent public forum at Yeshiva University that took on the question of homosexuality in the Orthodox Jewish world has prompted a backlash from students and teachers, who fired back with petitions and public lectures condemning the event.

Critics of the event, held December 22, say it lent legitimacy to those who are trying to water down aspects of Jewish law, which explicitly bans homosexuality. With some students and rabbis calling the event a desecration of God's name, YU President Richard Joel and Rabbi Yona Reiss, dean of the rabbinical school, circulated a statement in the days after the forum reiterating the "absolute prohibition of homosexual relationships according to Jewish law."

In a lecture at YU on December 28, Rabbi Mayer Twersky sharply criticized the event, while acknowledging that its organizers probably had good intentions. "Not only in my lifetime, but I think in your lifetimes, there was a point in which such a shmooze [discussion] would have been unimaginable, inconceivable. Not only unnecessary, but inappropriate. Wrong," he said.

"If the Torah says something is a toevah [abomination], it is that," he said. "And there's no need and, more importantly, no justification for being politically correct in terms of what it is. The Torah says it, the Torah's value judgments are eternally true."

The controversial forum seeking to address the painful conflict of being a gay Jew was prompted by two anonymous accounts in YU's student newspapers. Attracting several hundred people to a packed auditorium, four gay students and graduates shared their stories in a discussion that deliberately avoided the question of halacha.

Although praised by many in the crowd, the forum set off new arguments on campus and effectively reopened a decades-long debate over homosexuality at YU, which has grappled with whether to allow gay clubs or housing for gay couples at some of its graduate schools. It also thrust YU itself into the center of an ongoing struggle over homosexuality in Orthodox Judaism.

In a statement, several leading rabbis at YU also reiterated Judaism's prohibition on homosexual acts. And in the days after the event, students circulated a petition characterizing the forum as a "desecration of God's name."

Joel and Reiss wrote "We are deeply concerned with the message the recent public forum on homosexuality in Orthodoxy sends to the rest of the world."

A public display of support for gay Orthodox Jews, they wrote, "indicates an implicit, if not explicit, acceptance and approval of a lifestyle that goes against the ideals of the Torah."

Responding to the backlash, Mordechai Levovitz, a YU graduate who helped found gay support group JQ Youth and who spoke at the December 22 forum, refuted Twersky's lecture in a point-by-point response that he posted online. Careful to articulate his respect for Twersky, a "Godol [giant] in learning and leadership," Levovitz wrote that use of the term "desecration of God's name" was "particularly disturbing."

"No one talked about their sex life. No one demanded a changing or ignoring of halacha," he continued. "The subjects were about the extra-halachic prejudices, silencing, pressures that the community may be responsible for."

Indeed, he said: "It is this type of 'name calling' that actually exemplifies the need for events like the panel… Just because the truth that we exist in YU, or in your shul, or in your family, causes you personal shame, does not make it a desecration of God's name."

Levovitz wrote that such insensitive language is "part of what makes being gay at YU so hard."

Several school officials contacted were not immediately available to respond.

In their statement circulated after the event, Joel and Reiss acknowledged that individuals struggling with homosexuality require "due sensitivity" but said such sympathy "cannot be allowed to erode the Torah's unequivocal condemnation of such activity."

"Sadly, as we have discovered, public gatherings addressing these issues, even when well-intentioned, could send the wrong message and obscure the Torah's requirements of halachic behavior and due modesty," they said, stressing YU's obligation to ensure its events promote the sacredness of a Torah life. "We are committed to providing halachic guidance and sensitivity with respect to all challenges confronted by individuals within our broader community, including homosexual inclinations, in a discreet, dignified and appropriate fashion."

Avi Kopstick, the president of the YU Tolerance Club who helped organize the event, expressed dismay but said he was prepared for such criticism. "Obviously, on a certain level I knew there was going to be this reaction," he said.

But Kopstick said he disagreed with those who claimed organizers wanted to take a lax approach with Torah law. "Obviously we weren't advocating to break halacha," he said. "We said specifically, we are not going to talk about halacha because we all know it's forbidden."

In an email to Joel and Reiss, Kopstick said he hoped their statement would not detract from the goal of the event, which was to raise awareness of the painful experiences of gay Orthodox Jews.

And while Kopstick did not take issue with their communiqué, he said Twersky's lecture on campus, while acknowledging that organizers had good intentions, did not take into account the reality of gay Orthodox Jews. "This isn't a couple of people who feel that they want to be gay and they want to let loose," Kopstick said. "I don't think he sees the implications of what the panel was meant to do."

But he said he was still grateful that YU agreed to host the event. "There was convincing," that had to be done, he recalled. "But in the end of the day, they realized that an issue like this can't be pushed under the rug."

2. National Post, January 3, 2010
1450 Don Mills Road, Suite 300, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada M3B 3R5
Gay Muslim scholar shunned by own community
By Elise Stolte

EDMONTON -- Junaid Bin Jahangir was such a devout Muslim that when he arrived in Canada he ate only yogurt for two days until he was sure which food followed halal dietary rules.

The university student prayed five times a day, and joined a local mosque.

Then one day, at age 27, he started to wonder why he had never been with a girl. "Why don't I like women that way?" he asked, and it led him to a counselling office, where he sat, sobbing, with the realization that he was gay -- a pariah to his community.

Mainstream Islamic leaders say gay men should be shunned and some around the world are killed each year.

Mr. Jahangir's world imploded; work on his PhD ground to a halt.

But out of that despair, Mr. Jahangir began to work on another project: Understanding the teachings of Islam on homosexuality. From his office at the University of Alberta, he contacted experts, read everything he could on the subject and studied the scriptures intensely for two years, rebuilding his own identity in the process. His work is starting to be recognized internationally.

Now he argues Muslims misinterpret the Qur'an if they consider the ban on homosexuality to be as firm as bans on alcohol or pork. The common story from which most Muslims draw their teaching is about violent homosexual rape, he says, and it's time to rethink the possibility of consensual, supportive relationships.

Although his PhD in economics is still incomplete, Mr. Jahangir was asked to contribute a chapter to a new anthology on homosexuality compiled by a noted Australian academic. The book, Islam and Homosexuality, edited by Samar Habib and published by Praeger Publishers, appeared recently in bookstores.

But he remains fearful of talking about the subject. He doesn't want his face shown in photographs, and when he agreed to do a presentation at the University of Alberta in the run-up to the book launch, organizers asked campus security and a local newspaper to attend in case someone wanted to cause trouble.

The meeting went well, and it appeared that some Muslim students attended, judging by the half-dozen head scarves among the crowd. But he still complains no Imams or professors with the university Islamic Studies department will speak with him or about the topic. The silence is so deep it's frustrating, he says.

"The apathy is unbelievable. How many more marriages do we want to fail as we pretend this doesn't exist?

"Gay youth are committing suicide," he says. "The 13- or 14-year-old girls, they are the ones who need this. [If they believe they are lesbian], what do they do? Get married and follow through the motions? What joy do they have in their lives?

"Let's at least talk about the issue because it affects us all."

Mr. Jahangir wrote his views in an opinion piece published in the Gateway, the University of Alberta student newspaper. But the local Muslim student association simply sent an e-mail to its members recommending they avoid him. Now he avoids the Muslim community, and any local mosque, too, he says. "I'm a pariah."

Mr. Jahangir grew up in Dubai and studied to earn a bachelor's degree in Pakistan. He came to the university in Edmonton for his master's and PhD.

He was goal-oriented, and totally focused on his studies until about four years ago, when he finished the field exams for his commerce degree.

He still had a thesis to write, but that's when he first seriously asked himself the question: "Why don't I like women that way?"

"Does this mean I'm gay?" he asked the student counsellor.

"‘That's for you to decide,'" the counsellor answered. Mr. Jahangir broke down crying.

From then on, he couldn't focus on his thesis.

He went to see a local Imam and told him his fears. "‘You're effeminate,' " the Imam told him. "‘I want you to go to the gym and keep a diary.'"

Mr. Jahangir discarded the advice. "I said this is no solution."

He sought help from an Islamic counsellor on the Internet. "All she said was, ‘You seem like a good person. I'll pray for you.' "

He went to a doctor to get hormonal tests, but they came back normal.

Finally, he went to a professional local counsellor, who turned out to be Jewish, and she taught him that holy scriptures have been interpreted by people differently over the years. The common interpretation is not always the truest, he says. He kept visiting her regularly for five months.

"They are as conservative as we are," he says. "I really learned a lot from her. That boosted my confidence to study on my own."

It has now been four years since he first took on the motto -- "knowledge is your shield" -- and started searching for books and articles on the subject. He's still working on his economics degree, but being included in the anthology for his work on homosexuality feels like having published a second thesis.

In the book, Mr. Jahangir examines the story of Lut, or Lot, a nephew of Ibrahim (or Abraham), who is often remembered from Christian Sunday school lessons as the man whose wife turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back at Sodom and Gomorrah burning in fire and brimstone.

In the Qur'an, Lut was a prophet sent to warn the people of the city to turn away from evil practices. Angels in the form of young male travellers came to warn him to flee because the city was about to be destroyed.

Lut persuaded the strangers to stay at his house for protection and, during the night, the men of the city threaten to break into his house demanding the strangers be given to them for sex.

Lut and his family fled during the night.

Mainstream Islamic thought interprets the sin of Lut's people primarily as homosexuality.

But Mr. Jahangir argues the sin discussed here should be recognized as rape, not loving same-sex unions. "This is rape as a violent tool. That's how you humiliate your enemies," Mr. Jahangir says.

Most major sins in the Qur'an are spelled out, says Mr. Jahangir, such as the prohibition against incest, "forbidden to you are your mothers and daughters, your sisters."

But why draw such a firm prohibition against homosexuality from a story, he asks. "A story can be interpreted in so many different ways. Why does it have to be this?"

"Even sympathetic people will say it's a test for you from God," he says. "Where does that leave you? You can't expect them to be robots. If it is a test, the majority will fail."

Instead, Mr. Jahangir argues, Muslims should apply the principle from the Qur'an that states anything not expressly forbidden is permissible.

Marriage is a basic need for a healthy life and Islamic law is mindful of genuine private and public need, he says. Since science has demonstrated homosexuality is not a choice, he argues, Islamic principles should support loving same-sex unions.

"It's not about sex. It's about being alone in old age," he says. "It's about living the full civil life of responsibility."

The community has ostracized Mr. Jahangir because of his views, he says. But he's not worried for himself anymore; he has the support of his family back in Pakistan.

He spends his time teaching and in advocacy work, and has a new circle of supportive friends.

Loneliness comes when he sees couples walking together and friends with children. "But I have an amazing group of close friends here. [Being alone] doesn't bother me that much," he says. "This is where my adopted family is."

Mr. Jahangir says he knows girls who have run away from homes in Edmonton rather than get married and who are still hiding from their parents. A young male relative was suicidal, but seems to have found a measure of peace through reading his work, he says.

Mainstream Canadian culture is much more supportive of homosexual youth than it once was, he says. "It's really the task of the day to work in the Islamic context as well. These books, hopefully, will ignite the conversation."

Edmonton Journal

3. Murder of a gay African American IU faculty member

Hi all,

I want to make sure that as many LGBTQ academics are aware of this as possible so please consider sharing this with any peers or lists that seem appropriate.

Dec 27, Don Belton, an out gay African American novelist, literary scholar, and faculty member at Indiana University, was stabbed to death in his home. The man arrested for Don's murder, who has admitted he killed Don, has entered a "not guilty" plea. He is asserting that he killed Don because of an alleged sexual assault that took place two days earlier. Don was a kind, gentle soul, my neighbor, friend, and co-worker. Those who knew him find it hard to imagine Don would or could sexually assault anyone, particularly someone like the admitted killer, Michael Griffin--a 24 year old white ex-Marine who Don had befriended this past summer. Please keep Don in your thoughts; read his work if you have the chance; and consider monitoring this case. It's time for "gay panic" to be taken off the table as a legitimate defense for brutality and violence against anyone. As LGBTQ academics, we are often visible members of our communities. In some cases that visibility can compromise our !
safety. But we can also collectively be a powerful and influential force for change.

For more information about Don and the monitoring of this case please bookmark:


Mary L. Gray, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Communication and Culture
Affiliate Faculty
American Studies, Anthropology, and Gender Studies
Indiana University
800 East 3rd Street
Bloomington, IN 47405
ph. 812/855.4379
fx. 812/855.6014

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