KESHET has became the first affiliate of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) to specifically advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
The organisation was unanimously voted in by the affiliates in attendance at JCCV’s plenum on Monday night.
It comes 16 years after Aleph Melbourne, a social and support group for the LGBT community, failed in its bid to join the JCCV after several Orthodox synagogues threatened to quit the communal roof body.
“This is a great feeling and, most importantly, we have now started a dialogue with the community which allows us to reach out to more members,” Jonathan Barnett, head of Keshet Australia, said after the vote.
“The excitement for me is that people want to be involved, they want to be supportive and, after almost five years of trying, the doors are finally open so that we can help people.”
Barnett told those in attendance at the plenum that many members of the LGBT community are rejected by their family and community.
“When they are rejected they are 800 per cent more likely to attempt suicide, have a 600 per cent higher chance of depression, 300 per cent higher chance of illegal drug use and 300 per cent higher chance of HIV/AIDS,” Barnett said.
He said that 67 per cent of LGBT people modify their daily activity because they fear prejudice, 85 per cent have experienced violence or harassment but less that 30 per cent told police.
“We are available to all Jewish institutions, and non-Jewish if they want a Jewish perspective, to provide seminars, training and instructional resources,” Barnett said.
He said he is particularly pleased to see the religious community taking time to understand the importance of accepting all people.
“For a frum boy struggling with his identity, he only has two practical choices.
“He can stay in the closet and, God forbid, he marries someone or he leaves the community, and we lose them all together. They have now come to realise that there has to be a balance within Orthodoxy and halachah to welcome these kids.”
JCCV president Jennifer Huppert said it was pleasing to see so many members of the community at the plenum.
“Keshet focuses on education and support for the LGBT community, which we all support.
“We see this as an issue of acceptance in our community and an issue affecting a large number of people.”