Conversion Therapy: Jerusalem, Unite to Fight Prejudice Against LGBTQ Jews

Inclusivity is not a political issue or a religious issue; it is a human issue.

Lynn Schusterman
Lynn Schusterman
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An Israeli couple kisses during the annual gay pride parade in Jerusalem, July 29, 2010.
An Israeli couple kisses during the annual gay pride parade in Jerusalem, July 29, 2010.Credit: AP
Lynn Schusterman
Lynn Schusterman

There is a practice that proponents suggest can “straighten out” gay people. You would think we had left such pseudo-science in the dark ages. But you would be wrong.

Fifteen years into the 21st century, this dehumanizing and dangerous perspective is alive and well. Later this month, in fact, one session of a conference to be held in Jerusalem will include presentations from so-called conversion therapy experts who will suggest homosexuality is a “condition” to be “cured.”

As someone who is deeply committed to total inclusivity in Jewish life, and fully invested in ensuring a vibrant future for the city of Jerusalem, I am disappointed and saddened that such views are being countenanced to any degree. Practices like conversion therapy (also known as reparative therapy) project a singular viewpoint about gender identity and sexual orientation that is offensive, cruel and outdated.

Even worse, when these views are espoused in the city of Jerusalem, they fuel hatred and intolerance that threaten the social and economic wellbeing of the Jewish capital.

Ironically, this panel is taking place at a time when we are experiencing a real sea change in how people are addressing issues of equality and inclusion in Israel and in other enlightened places around the world. Tel Aviv is considered by many to be a welcoming destination for members of the LGBTQ community. Gay marriage in the United States has reached a critical tipping point and is enjoying far broader acceptance now than even in the recent past. And television shows like "Modern Family" and "Transparent" are raising the profile of key issues, with the latter giving a much-needed voice to the transgender community.

And yet, as far as we have come, we still have people calling publicly for something as backward and shameful as conversion therapy.

How can we reconcile these realities? How can we reconcile them in Jerusalem of all places, a city with the most complex demography and diverse citizenry in the world?

We can start by recognizing the issue for what it is, as opposed to what it is not: Inclusivity is not a political issue. It is not a religious issue. It is a human issue.

Reconciling this reality requires a fundamental commitment to treating our fellow human beings with kindness, compassion and respect.

As Jews, we know what that means. We know what it means to struggle for acceptance. Our experience demands we open our hearts and our minds to be welcoming to all. It demands we recognize that what unites us in our shared humanity is far greater than what divides us. It demands we embrace the diversity that is so important to Jerusalem now and in the future.

I hope all citizens of Jerusalem will join me in calling for more constructive dialogue on these critical issues. In doing so, we can make a bold statement that bigotry and prejudice have no place in a civil and just society. We can send a resounding message that tolerance and diversity are essential to strengthening Jerusalem. And we can give a voice to those silenced by hatred and intolerance.

We have among us some who are already leading the charge. A coalition of LGBTQ organizations, led by Jerusalem Open House, will attend the session at the conference in Jerusalem to respectfully challenge the panelists and share their perspective. They will also host a conference that will take a more nuanced look at critical issues facing Jerusalem’s LGBTQ community. Represented among these organizations are a cadre of young people who are taking an active role in advancing a more welcoming, inclusive dialogue around equality and civil rights.

But clearly we still have a long way to go. If you think this issue does not affect you, think again. These practices cannot coexist with the type of openness needed to continue strengthening the quality of life in Jerusalem. Worse yet, when they are accepted, they compromise the progress we have made to date, and they drive equality-minded young people to leave the city for communities whose values on these issues more closely align with their own. We cannot afford for this to happen.

And so, if you love Jerusalem, as I do; if you believe in Jerusalem, as I do; if you are deeply committed to Jerusalem as the modern, pluralistic capital of Israel and the Jewish people, then join me in making a commitment to uphold inclusionary policies and practices.

Now is the moment to boldly look forward to how we can create a more respectful, welcoming future for Jerusalem, for Israel and for the Jewish people. The challenges we face today demand nothing less.

Lynn Schusterman is the Founder and Co-Chair of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, a global organization committed to igniting the passion and unleashing the power in young people to create positive change in the Jewish community and beyond.

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