Welcome to our guide on LGBTQ inclusion for Hillel professionals. You can open a chapter by clicking on the — sign and close it by clicking on the + sign. We’d love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, and ideas. Drop us a line at email@example.com anytime! Written by Suzie Schwartz Jacobson
The first step to creating a fully inclusive environment is a commitment to values of equality and respect for all people, and for those values to be reflected in the programming, policies, organizational culture and physical space of your Hillel. In the following chapters we will provide a few suggestions to help you express your values clearly through your Hillel’s administration.
Before you can examine how your Hillel could become more inclusive of LGBTQ students and staff, there must be a commitment and buy in on the part of all staff and students for this to be a core value of your community. It is essential that this value be explicitly expressed and discussed openly. Even in communities where there seems to be agreement that inclusion of LGBTQ Jews is essential, or even obvious, it is still important to state this explicitly.
One way to do this is to open up public and communal discussions about LGBTQ inclusion at the beginning of the school year, or when discussing the vision and values of your Hillel. You can consider holding this conversation during a meeting of the student board or leadership, at a staff meeting, or with the general student population and/or campus community. By stating this as a core value, LGBTQ students and staff will know that their Hillel values equality and that they will be protected against discrimination.
Even if you think it is obvious, explicitly state in marketing materials, on your website, and other communications that your Hillel welcomes LGBTQ students. This will go a long way in letting potential students know that Hillel is a safe space for them, and letting all other constituents know the values of your institution.
Both current and potential LGBTQ students, as well as LGBTQ staff and faculty members, need to know that your Hillel values equality, and is committed to protecting against discrimination and harassment.
By mentioning this commitment in your existing policy documents or creating new language, you will communicate a commitment to equal treatment for all. For example, you should have a comprehensive anti-bullying statement for students and also inclusive anti-harassment Human Resources policies for staff. Click here for sample language for different anti-harassment policies and inclusivity statements. The statement should be easily available on your website, printed marketing materials, or other communications where fit.
When crafting registration forms and other documentation, be sure that they are welcoming to a spouse or partner of any gender. Rather than marking only “husband” and “wife,” write “partner 1” and “partner 2,” etc. If you need to ask for the gender of a student, allow room for a write in category if the student identifies outside of the two binary genders (male and female), or avoid asking for gender if the information is not necessary.
Keshet has a searchable Equality Guide, an online guide for finding LGBTQ inclusive clergy and institutions. Be sure to register your Hillel as soon as possible.
Everyday actions like using the bathroom are complicated and often dangerous for transgender and gender non-conforming people.
Consider whether all of your facility’s restrooms must be gender-specific or whether one could be made available to everyone. This need not be complicated; covering the “men” or “women” sign with “all-gender restroom” is sufficient. Remember to do this for temporary, shared, or rental facilities also. You can download gender-neutral bathroom signs here.
As a Hillel professional you are an important role model in the lives of the students in your community. Students listen to what you say and the language you use. In this chapter, we provide a few suggestions how to encourage language and communication that supports LGBTQ students in your Hillel community.
When leaders make incorrect assumptions about the sexuality or gender of community members we risk rendering gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning individuals invisible, and may cause deep pain. When we fail to see our students as their full selves, we risk alienating them from the community and discouraging them from participating fully or at all.
For example, when talking to participants about dating, don’t assume that they are interested in the opposite sex, and before referring to students as “ladies,” or “guys,” ask them how they identify, and what words they use to describe themselves, or use gender neutral terms and phrases that don’t make assumptions about gender identity.
One of the most important things a Hillel can do to ensure that LGBTQ students feel safe and welcome in your community is to make sure that harassing language is strictly and proactively banned. Words like “faggot” and “dyke” and phrases like “that’s so gay,” both deeply offend and also create an environment that is not only uncomfortable, but unsafe for LGBTQ students.
Creating a “Safe Zone” program – displaying posters, stickers, and other literature encouraging acceptance – is a great way to communicate that your Hillel is a safe environment for all. However, more than any program or sticker, the positive and non-homophobic language used by staff and leadership is an important model for students of how to treat each other with respect and can greatly influence Hillel culture. It is also important to be proactive-when a leader overhears a student using homophobic or abusive language, it is important that this is pointed out and discussed. Click here for some ideas on how to respond to students who say “that’s so gay,” and click here to order/print your own Safe Zone stickers.
Oftentimes one of the greatest challenges for non-LGBTQ people in talking about LGBTQ issues is uncertainty regarding language and vocabulary. As many terms are new, or are used differently by different people and in different contexts, people are sometimes uncertain and embarrassed to enter the conversation for fear of being wrong or of inadvertently hurting someone’s feelings. Click here for a list of LGBTQ terms and definitions.
Full LGBTQ inclusion can be a complex process, but there is support for you on the Internet and in professional development and training opportunities. In this chapter we provide a few suggestions for resources that will help you implement your new action steps.
Once your Hillel has committed to the full inclusion of LGBTQ students and staff it is important to provide your community with the skills they need to put these goals into action.
In a training, all stakeholders will have the opportunity to gain tools and resources, reflect on the needs of your population and learn more about how to create an inclusive community. Click here to find out more about Keshet trainings.
In addition, many campuses offer their own Safe Zone programs, and have LGBTQ centers that offer supportive community and programming to LGBTQ students.
It’s a good idea to do some research to see what kind of support for LGBTQ inclusion is already available on your campus. Some campus LGBTQ centers already collaborate with their Hillel in supporting LGBTQ Jewish student groups, such as Ahava at the University of Michigan, J-BageL at the University of Pennsylvania, Gayava of Columbia/Barnard, and Hamsa at the University of Maryland.
In order to achieve your goals, your values of equality and inclusivity must be embedded in the everyday culture and activity of your Hillel. In this chapter we provide a few suggestions to help you make your values go “viral.”
Every Hillel is different, and no one knows your Hillel better than you. No matter how many trainings you hold, safe space signs you put up, or anti-bullying policies you put into place, the only true way to create a fully open and supportive community is to be committed to values of equality and respect all the time, every day.
Have your professionals, student leaders and constituents check in regularly and discuss how your Hillel is meeting its goals and achieving its values. This time for reflection does not necessarily require special meetings, but can be incorporated into your regular board meetings and other check-ins.
Brainstorm new ways to encourage greater equality and respect, address any issues and make it an ongoing conversation in your community. A Hillel that cares deeply about the safety and happiness of their LGBTQ students will undoubtedly be a wonderful place for them to belong.
It is sometimes an impulse of staff and students alike to group students based on binary gender (male or female). However, this is problematic for several reasons:
Consider asking students to count off, or divide them alphabetically or by birthdays instead.
Queer visibility is key to an LGBTQ individual’s feeling of belonging in a Hillel. LGBTQ committees or clubs encourage this sense of belonging and make Hillels more welcoming for LGBTQ students. Additionally, such committees or clubs are an important venue for conversations regarding LGBTQ inclusion, and can help lead to powerful and important changes in your Hillel that will foster greater equality and acceptance.
Depending upon the needs of your community, groups can:
Members of the group may also want to participate in the student programming of Nehirim, where they can connect with other LGBTQ Jewish students from across the country.
Our commitment to the inclusion of LGBTQ Jews is not just a secular value, but a Jewish value. When appropriate, integrate LGBTQ issues and topics into your programming in order to demonstrate how inclusivity is essential to our Judaism. Going beyond the prohibitions in Leviticus, Judaism says much about positive sexuality, gender and how to treat all people with respect.
Another tangible and easy way to start a conversation about LGBTQ inclusion at your Hillel is to share Keshet’s Seven Jewish Values for Inclusive Community poster or handout with your students. Hillel and Keshet partnered to create this special, co-branded version in the hopes that every Hillel will display these posters on their walls and use them in student programming. This resource can be printed and included in materials for new staff and student leadership, encouraging the issue of LGBTQ inclusion–and what it means to be a welcoming and inclusive community more broadly–will be emphasized on your campus right from the start. These are just a few examples of the many possible ways to teach about LGBTQ and Jewish topics.
Like the Jewish calendar, the LGBTQ calendar has moments of celebration and moments of memorial and mourning for those who have lost their lives due to homophobic or transphobic violence. Your community can help the larger LGBTQ community celebrate:
You do not need to reinvent the wheel when introducing LGBTQ issues and ideas to your community. There are many resources out there to help you.
We provide many resources on our website such as:
Here are a few other resources that may be relevant to your institution in the LGBTQ sphere: