The Slifka Center is increasing the options for homosexual students of faith on campus, launching a support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.
The group, which was founded by Rabbi James Ponet ’68 and Philip Bronstein ’12, will meet four to five times this semester to explore how classical Jewish texts portray sexuality. About ten students of varying sexual orientations and religious faiths have signed up to attend the discussion sessions, Ponet said. The new group will be the first to focus on homosexuality and religion at Slifka, though not the first such group at Yale.
“It is for each of us to expand and deepen our understanding of human sexuality and its relationship to Jewish traditions,” Ponet said.
Before the creation of the Slifka program, the Chaplain’s Office already helped to fund and administer an interfaith group called Bridges, which meets at the Women’s Center once a week to discuss sexuality, gender and faith. The United Church of Christ also hosts a weekly, student-run Bible study group that discusses LGBT issues. Ponet said the Slifka group may eventually coordinate events with the other campus groups that address the intersection of faith and sexuality, though he will focus on helping members of the new group get to know one another first.
Ponet said he thinks Slifka is already a comfortable and accepting place for LGBT students, but he wanted to create a forum for students to openly share their experiences and anxieties surrounding homosexuality, and to learn from each other.
“This is a place that takes sexuality seriously and doesn’t prescribe sexual norms,” Ponet said. “We advocate love.”
In an age when an increasing number of Jews are able to identify themselves as LGBT, it is important that people are able to discuss sexuality in the context of biblical text, Ponet said. He added that some Jewish texts condemn homosexuality.
Megan Doherty, an associate rabbi at Slifka who identifies as lesbian, said in an e-mail that she has found it challenging to reconcile her sexuality with Jewish texts. But, she said, some interpretations of the texts are more open to her orientation than others.
“Fortunately for me, there has been a community of people working on those interpretations for many years, so I am not alone in the struggle,” she said.
Bronstein and Ponet said they hope to bring a guest lecturer to speak to the group this semester, and to organize a trip to New York City to visit groups there that discuss similar issues.