Jewish LGBT Youth Groups and Organization

Copyright (c) by Dina Mazina and Rebecca DiBrienza, 2008. All rights reserved.

As ethnic identity groups have gained prominence in queer organizing as the twenty-first century begins, LGBT youth have started to identify with and organize with specific races, cultures, and religions for support and advocacy. Awareness about queer individuals in the Jewish faith and community was heightened by media projects such as Trembling Before G-D, a documentary about orthodox gays and lesbians. In 2002, groups for organizing Jewish LGBT students, at both the high school and college levels, started to form.

In March of 2002 university students in Santa Cruz, CA organized a three-day National Union of Jewish Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Students (NUJLS) Conference to discuss queer issues, theology, culture, and activism. Guest speakers included San Francisco Supervisor Mark Leno and performer Nomy Lamm. 2002 also marked the change in the conference’s title, from the LGBT Leadership Conference to the more inclusive LGBTIQQ. A significant goal of the conference was to find ways to help Jewish campus organizations, such as Hillel, to reach out to queer students. [1]

Queer organizing in Jewish high schools takes on similar goals, mainly to provide “places for Jewish gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth to discuss their personal, sexual and religious identities.” Groups like Open House at the New Jewish High School (NJHS) and Ga’avah (meaning “pride” in Hebrew) at Keshet, both in Boston, while not technically GSAs, follow the basic model in order to provide a comfortable and supportive environment for members. Open House founder Shulamit Izen compares the organization to that of a GSA, explaining that, like the widespread group, Open House plans events and aims to create a community for queer and questioning students. When founded in 2001, it was the first LGBT group at a Jewish school in the Greater Boston Area. A year later, membership consisted of three openly gay students and four openly gay teachers. In reaction to Open House, Idit Klein expressed a need for more queer youth groups in the Jewish community, as well as the need for mainstream Jewish youth organizations to include queer issues.

Open House, like many LGBT youths and adults, faces a number challenges from the conservative Jewish community. Although it is allowed to serve as a support group for its members, much like Open House in Israel, the original organization that NJHS’s group is named after, it cannot take on gay pride or advocacy activities. [2]


  1. Brandt, Joshua (2002, March 8). Inclusiveness conference draws queer Jewish students. Jewish Bulletin of Northern California, p. 4A. Retrieved December 12, 2007, from Ethnic NewsWatch (ENW) database. (Document ID: 491223381).
  2. Nielsen, Jason (2002, May 30). Open House for Jewish GLBT Youth: NJHS and Keshet Provide Safe and Comfortable Environments. Jewish Advocate, p. 4. Retrieved December 12, 2007, from Ethnic NewsWatch (ENW) database. (Document ID: 469447491).