JCCV working to improve inclusion and reduce mental health tragedies for our LGBTI community members

[Note: this Mental Health Forum was convened as an emergency response to the ABS Postal Survey on Same-Sex Marriage]

JCCV working to improve inclusion and reduce mental health tragedies for our LGBTI community members

 

Last night, about 40 community members, organizational leaders, mental health experts and service providers, including at least seven Orthodox Rabbis, attended a very informative and moving Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) LGBTI Mental Health Forum.

The Forum heard from speakers and panelists from SANE Australia, Headspace, Jewish Care Victoria, Keshet Australia, the Rabbinical Council of Victoria and Hatzolah. Community members and professionals also shared relevant anecdotes and personal stories.

JCCV President, Jennifer Huppert stated, “It is most important at this time while the community is enduring a divisive and emotionally damaging same sex marriage debate, that we focus on respect, inclusion and avoiding creative havoc with the mental health of vulnerable members of our community, in particular our LGBTI youth.”

Apart from sharing the terrible statistics for mental health problems and suicide rates for the LGBTI community, and especially our youth, speakers described many of the problems faced:

  • Lack of support
  • Discrimination
  • Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia
  • Isolation and alienation
  • Exclusion
  • Bullying
  • Public abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Loss of family and community connections

Which all can lead to self-harm, depression, and worse.

Young LGBTI youth face a FIVE times higher risk of suicide compared to non-LGBTI youth.

Rabbi Daniel Rabin, President of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria spoke about inclusion and the need for Rabbis and other community leaders to be welcoming. 

Rabbi Rabin stated, “We are all members of the community, like letters in a Torah scroll. If one is missing, the whole is invalidated.”

“As one of my LGBTI congregants with young children said to me, ‘What make me comfortable to attend the Synagogue and its activities is because I don’t feel judged when I participate”

Speakers spoke about the importance of family and community support, and issues of coming out.

Medical practitioner and mental health advocate Dr Dov Degen stated, “I hope for a future where we won’t have to come out as gay or straight.  We will just be able to say, “I am me”, and that will be enough.”

Orthodox Psychologist Zipporah Oliver OAM aligned the discussion with Orthodox Jewish values and said that we should remember to focus on:
– Saving a life and minimizing harm
– Loving a fellow Jew
– Chessed – Kindness

The panel of speakers highlighted steps that families and community leaders needed to take to improve mental health outcomes and prevent serious damage, included:
– Be welcoming:
– Accept difference
– Support the vulnerable and those struggling
– Refer to appropriate service providers
– Don’t be judgemental
– Provide an inclusive environment
– Must name and address mental health problems
– Must have the conversations
– Must be careful in your language and display understanding and empathy.

JCCV Mental Health Forum - Sep 25 2017
L-R: Marilyn Kraner (Jewish Care), Kirsten Cleland (Headspace), Dr Dov Degen (medical practitioner and mental health advocate), Jack Heath (CEO SANE Australia), Jennifer Huppert (JCCV President)

The hypocrisy within the Jewish community of calling for a “respectful” debate (or silence) on Marriage Equality

On Monday September 4 2017 the Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV) issued a statement advising citizens to vote No in the upcoming federal government postal survey on marriage equality.  A backlash to this statement ensued, with no less than Rabbi Daniel Rabin, President of the council that issued the statement, and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry distancing themselves from the aforementioned statement.

On Wednesday the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) issued a statement calling for “a respectful debate in the lead up to the same sex marriage survey”.

Also on Wednesday Rabbi Yaakov Glasman, Senior Rabbi of the St Kilda Hebrew Congregation and President of the Rabbinical Council of Australia and New Zealand, issued a statement explaining his rationale for participating in a position of silence on the postal survey.

On Thursday Rabbi Daniel Mirvis, Senior Rabbi of the Mizrachi Centre, issued a statement saying of the upcoming postal survey: “I plan on remaining silent on the matter”.

On Friday Rabbi James Kennard, Principal of Mount Scopus Memorial College issued a statement urging “all who choose not to remain silent to ensure that all comments, on all sides, are made with respect, sensitivity and understanding”.

By calling for a “respectful debate” the underlying message being sent is that debate must be respectful over whether the Marriage Act should continue to exclude same-sex and other non-heterosexual couples.  Ultimately this amounts to insisting on a polite conversation on the merit of legalised discrimination.

Engaging in silence on a matter of discrimination amounts to tacit endorsement of the status quo.

But what if the topic of conversation were not Marriage Equality, but instead the banning of non-medical circumcision, the banning of religious slaughter of animals, government support for BDS, or the removal of religious and racial protections?

Would it still be acceptable to have a debate, or maintain silence, on any of these topics, respecting the underlying premise of each issue?

Would Jewish community leaders stand around and silently tolerate the wider community respectfully debating the merits of these topics, with a laissez-faire approach to the conversations?

Probably not.

Yet it’s acceptable for some senior Jewish Community leaders to insist on tolerating a “respectful debate” or maintaining a silence over whether the government can continue to enshrine discrimination in the law against a marginalised and highly vulnerable minority group for no good reason.

And this isn’t double standards?  Where is the respect in that?

Rabbi Daniel Rabin’s personal apology for RCV statement on marriage equality

I would like to personally address the recent RCV statement on the upcoming postal vote and any hurt that it has caused in the community. The RCV should not have told people how to vote and refrained from making a divisive statement.

The statement has caused immense anger and pain and has alienated many who already feel isolated within the community. I deeply regret the hurt that has been caused and as President of the organization I sincerely apologise for this.

I feel that at this point any comment I make on inclusivity will sound disingenuous and I will take the overwhelming responses I have received as an opportunity to reconsider how future Halachik statements are disseminated in regards to sensitive community issues.