Yeshiva University Students File Suit for Recognition of LGBTQ Club on Campus - The Jewish Voice
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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Yeshiva University Students File Suit for Recognition of LGBTQ Club on Campus

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As equality, diversity and tolerance of alternative lifestyles continue to dominate the headlines and the national discourse, it now appears that an impending lawsuit is calling upon a New York City-based college to recognize a student-run LGBTQ club. The institution of higher learning in question is Yeshiva University, whose main branch is in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan.

While other colleges and universities have no problem recognizing gay and lesbian clubs, the issue with YU cuts to the core of what this iconic school for. Founded over 130 years ago, Yeshiva University represents Orthodox Jewish teachings as outlined in the Torah.  According to a Wikipedia report, Yeshiva University has its roots in the Etz Chaim Yeshiva founded in 1886 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a cheder-style elementary school founded by Eastern European immigrants that offered study of Talmud along with some secular education, including instruction in English. The rabbinical seminary was chartered in 1897.  Currently, its student body is predominantly comprised of Orthodox Jewish students.

A group consisting of two former and two current YU students on Tuesday filed the lawsuit that would compel the college to offer official recognition to their LGBTQ club. The lawsuit claims that the group organizing the club has had their efforts thwarted on repeated occasions and now they are seeking legal redress.

The students claim that they attempted to have their proposed gay club granted recognition by the university three times between 2019 and 2020. Currently, YU offers official recognition to 116 other student clubs and the students filing the lawsuit say that the university’s refusal to grant them recognition is discriminatory in nature and is in clear violation of New York’s human rights law.

On Tuesday, the YU Commentator, the official newspaper of the university stated that 50 years ago, YU elected to be a non-sectarian institution, subjecting itself to NYC Human Rights Law, and has collected hundreds of millions of dollars in New York State funds and benefits. “Because it is a secular institution,” the suit says, “it cannot pick and choose which New York City laws apply to it and which do not.”

The YU Commentator also stated that the plaintiffs in the case were “the Alliance, Molly Meisels (SCW ‘21), Amitai Miller (YC ‘20), Doniel Weinreich (YC ‘20) and an anonymous student.” The paper said that the plaintiffs are being represented by the New York City based boutique law firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP. The firm focuses on civil rights, commercial, criminal and ethics matters, as was reported by the YU Commentator. The Alliance is an unofficial student club for providing LGBTQ student support to “feel visible, respected, and represented,” as per its Facebook page.

“This is a straight-forward case under the very clear law of New York City, which has one of the strongest civil rights laws in the country,” Katherine Rosenfeld, the lead lawyer representing the students, said during a press conference Tuesday morning, as was reported by the Inside Higher Education web site.

“Undergraduate students at Yeshiva University would like to form an LGBTQ student group to provide peer support, community, host events, coffees, all the activities that student clubs exist to provide and which are so important to the development and success of college students,” Rosenfeld said. “Unfortunately Yeshiva University has repeatedly refused to recognize the LGBTQ student group because it is for LGBTQ students and about LGBTQ issues in its mission. This is discrimination under New York City human rights law, plain and simple.”

The Inside Higher Education website also reported that Yeshiva University previously justified its decision not to recognize the club in fall 2020 in religious terms. “The message of Torah on this issue is nuanced, both accepting each individual with love and affirming its timeless prescriptions,” Yeshiva administrators said in a September 2020 statement quoted in the lawsuit. “While students will of course socialize in gatherings they see fit, forming a new club as requested under the auspices of YU will cloud this nuanced message.”

The New York Post reported that the lawsuit claims that in February 2019, YU  took the unusual step of vetoing the group’s formation despite the fact that the club had received approval from the student council.

Court papers say that the YU Pride Alliance was unofficially formed in September of 2019 at a protest march supporting LGBTQ students, as was reported by the Post.

The suit charges that “beyond depriving students of access to these tangible benefits of student clubs, YU’s refusal to recognize the YU Pride Alliance sends a stark and painful message of rejection and non-belonging to its LGBTQ students and their allies.”

The court paper also allege that this is not the first time that student requests to form an LGBTQ club were denied by the university. The suit claims that in 2009, gay students wanted to form The Tolerance Club that focused on supporting students with gay identities but that was denied.

“Beyond depriving students of access to these tangible benefits of student clubs, YU’s refusal to recognize the YU Pride Alliance sends a stark and painful message of rejection and non-belonging to its LGBTQ students and their allies,” the suit charges. The suit adds that, “YU has inflicted and is continuing to inflict grave dignitary, emotional, and psychological harms on these college students, and indeed on all its students, who need belonging, safety, community, and support.”

In a statement to the media, YU said, “Our policies on harassment and discrimination against students on the basis of protected classifications including LGBTQ+ are strong and vigorously enforced. We are actively engaged with our students, faculty and rabbinic leaders to facilitate productive discussions with an eye toward understanding and embracing diverse perspectives.”

The Inside Higher Ed web site stated that the lawsuit against YU comes at a time when religious colleges’ policies regarding LGBTQ+ students are increasingly under scrutiny. About 30 former and current LGBTQ+ students who enrolled in various evangelical Christian colleges sued the Department of Education last month, accusing the department of failing to protect them from discriminatory anti-LGBTQ+ policies at the colleges and challenging the constitutionality of a religious exemption to a federal anti-discrimination law.


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