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By Sharon Gittleman
WEST BLOOMFIELD- The gathering last week had one aim.
“Our goal for all of this is to save a life,” said Judy Lewis, president of the Jewish Gay Network of Michigan.
“Alll of this,” was the second of six presentations of the “Twice Blessed Speakers Series,” sponsored by JGN and funded by a grant from the Jewish Women’s Foundation and the corporate sponsorship of Paramount Bank.
This spring and summer, experts in health care, women’s rights, Jewish spirituality and more will gather at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield to talk about how these issues affect the LGBT population.
The talks may soon mushroom, said Lewis.
“Our next focus is to create an inclusive curriculum,” she said. “It will be saying all people have something that makes them unique. All of us are created in the divine image – some of us are black, some of us are white, some of us are straight, some of us are gay and some of us are Jewish.”
A Jewish focused Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays chapter is another outgrowth of the lecture series.
“It’s in the process of starting now,” she said.
The March meeting focused on the “Silent Crisis,” preventing bullying and violence directed at gay and lesbian youth.
“I think it was very successful,” said Lewis. “There were a lot of people in the community including teachers and educators there to find out how they could make a safe space for students.”
Some of the 70 social workers, school councilors and others made the trip from communities as far ranging as Inkster and Lansing to explore the subject, said Lewis.
“The whole idea behind the programs is the more people know the less frightened they are,” she said. “The less frightened they are the less violent they are.”
The dangers faced by LGBT youth extend far beyond bullying said speaker Kim Phillips-Knope.
Sexual minority youth have a greater risk for everything from school failure to suicide, said Gail Katz, a JGN board member and an organizer of the gathering.
Phillips-Knope presented some grim statistics, said Katz.
“Sexual minority youth are four times more likely to commit suicide,” she said. “They are 3.4 times more likely to skip school because they felt unsafe. They are 8.6 times more likely to use injected drugs. They are 4.1 times more likely to be diagnosed with an STD.”
One reason gay kids are more vulnerable to these troubles is their fear of their loved ones’ reactions to their sexual identity, said Katz. They end up keeping their problems to themselves instead of sharing them with the people most interested in helping them find a solution.
“Kids especially who aren’t out can’t go home to mom or dad and talk to them,” said Katz. “They may not have come out to their parents or they may be in danger of being kicked out.”
The crowd at the gathering filled out anonymous surveys asking them everything from whether the person answering felt comfortable talking about their sexuality to querying if they would try to stop someone from making nasty cracks about LGBT people.
When they were done, the questionnaires were switched at random, so the crowd could report the results without revealing the identity of the respondents.
One question and answer touched Katz the most.
The speaker asked the crowd if they thought schools were safe for LGBT students, faculty, staff and parents.
“She said, ‘stand up if you put yes,'” said Katz. “Very few people stood up.”
Katz wasn’t concerned that the people who attended the lecture were unlikely to be the individuals who most needed to hear the message.
“You may be preaching to the choir,” she said. “But, the people who take the time and trouble to come out at night on a weekday are the ones who will take the idea back and make a difference in the school and may affect one of those non-choir members.”
A second speaker, Rabbi Lauren Berkun, a faculty member of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School in the Detroit area, talked about Judaism’s view of the LGBT community – and the necessity for each individual to maintain their integrity.
“What is more important is the dignity of each individual instead of a passage in Leviticus,” Katz said.
For more information about the new Jewish PFLAG chapter, visit the Jewish Gay Network online at www.jgnmi.org .