LGBTQ group offers to fund all Yeshiva University clubs after Pride freeze

Jewish Queer Youth will provide funding to any student club at NY Modern Orthodox university, after school suspended all student groups to avoid recognizing Pride Alliance

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: A Yeshiva University building in New York City, January 13, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
Illustrative: A Yeshiva University building in New York City, January 13, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

NEW YORK — An LGBTQ advocacy group on Tuesday offered to fund all clubs at New York’s Yeshiva University after the college suspended student activities to avoid recognizing a campus Pride group.

Jewish Queer Youth funds the Yeshiva University Pride Alliance and had said the university’s decision to suspend all clubs “paints a target on the backs of queer undergraduate students.”

In response to the club freeze, which was announced last week after the Supreme Court said the university needed to recognize the Pride Alliance, Jewish Queer Youth said it would fund any of the college’s dozens of student groups.

“YU is postponing all clubs because of the queer students. So JQY will fund all clubs because of the queer students,” said Jewish Queer Youth Executive Director Rachael Fried.

Clubs can apply for $500 per event and Jewish Queer Youth has pledged to raise $10,000 to continue funding campus activities.

Jewish Queer Youth’s funding offer was first reported by Yeshiva University’s independent student newspaper The Commentator.

Some of the other campus clubs affected by the shutdown focus on politics, Shakespeare and zoology.

Jewish Queer Youth is a nonprofit that supports Jewish LGBTQ young people, with a focus on the Orthodox, Hasidic, Sephardi and Mizrahi communities. It has been supporting the Yeshiva University Pride Alliance since the club’s establishment in 2019.

Recognition would have granted the Pride club funding and other benefits that are granted to other student clubs.

An online petition in support of the LGBTQ community at Yeshiva University has accumulated 74 pages of signatures from students, faculty and alumni.

Yeshiva University announces a decision to suspend all student clubs in an email to the student body, September 16, 2022. (Courtesy)

Yeshiva University announced the club shutdown in an email to the undergraduate student body on Friday.

The flagship Modern Orthodox university has not said when the club suspension will expire but said it will use the time to work toward a new case at the US Supreme Court.

Students pay $150-$200 per semester for club activities as part of their tuition. At least one student who asked to waive the fees due to the club suspensions was turned down.

The legal battle between the university and the Pride group began in 2020, when LGBTQ student activists accused the university of discrimination in a complaint to the city’s Commission on Human Rights, then sued the university last year.

The legal dispute revolves around whether the university is a secular institution that must adhere to non-discrimination laws, or a religious one covered by the 1st Amendment’s protection for the free expression of beliefs.

The university says recognizing the club infringes on its religious beliefs. Gay sex and same-sex marriage are generally forbidden in Orthodox Judaism.

In June, a New York judge said the university needed to recognize the club under a city human rights law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The university appealed to the Supreme Court, asking it to overturn the New York court’s decision. The court dismissed the case last week, meaning the university needed to recognize the club, at least temporarily.

A poster advertises an LGBTQ event at Yeshiva University, Dec. 15, 2020. (Courtesy of Yeshiva University student organizers)

The Supreme Court said the university needed to exhaust other appeals before it would hear the case. The decision was made on procedural grounds, not the larger religious issues.

The dissenting justices said the university could appeal to the Supreme Court again down the road and would “likely win” in such a scenario. Yeshiva University President Rabbi Ari Berman said the school would “follow their instructions.”

The university announced the club shutdown the next day.

The court has a conservative majority and has previously ruled in favor of religious groups.

The university, which has been compelled by courts in the past to extend rights to gay and lesbian students, says it seeks to tread a line between welcoming LGBTQ students and refusing to recognize the Pride Alliance.

“Every faith-based university in the country has the right to work with its students, including its LGBTQ students, to establish the clubs, places and spaces that fit within its faith tradition,” Berman said Thursday. “Yeshiva University simply seeks that same right of self-determination.”

“At the same time, as our commitment to and love for our LGBTQ students are unshakeable, we continue to extend our hand in invitation to work together to create a more inclusive campus life consistent with our Torah values,” he said.

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