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US Jewish group launches ‘TikTok therapy’ for LGBTQ Orthodox youth

Jewish Queer Youth’s video series will provide lighthearted support and advice, as surveys show many young gay people lack mental healthcare

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

Illustrative: A pro-LGBTQ group at the Celebrate Israel Parade in New York City, June 4, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
Illustrative: A pro-LGBTQ group at the Celebrate Israel Parade in New York City, June 4, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

NEW YORK — An advocacy group for young religious LGBTQ Jews has launched a project to provide mental health guidance tailored to the community on social media, in the first initiative of its kind, as surveys show that such youth in the US are at a higher risk for emotional issues and harassment.

The “TikTok therapy” video series will offer advice on topics such as how to discuss dating someone from the same gender with Orthodox parents, or navigating LGBTQ issues that come up in conversation at Shabbat dinners, said Jewish Queer Youth (JQY), a New York-based group that focuses on assisting young people from Orthodox, Hasidic and Sephardic homes.

Jeremy Novich, JQY’s in-house psychologist, will host the video series which will be posted on the group’s social media channels.

“Lots of youth don’t have access to a therapist who is both queer-competent and Orthodox-competent,” Novich said. “This is kind of a way of reaching and accessing those youth who don’t have those therapists.”

A report released last month by the Trevor Project, a US nonprofit focused on mental healthcare for LGBTQ youth, found that support was lacking for the community. The survey found that 41% of the cohort had considered suicide in the past year, 81% wanted mental healthcare and over half who wanted such healthcare were not able to get it.

JQY believes the trend is likely worse in Orthodox communities, and the video series will aim to narrow the gap. There are examples of similar content online for LGBTQ youth, but not for the Orthodox niche. The videos will provide coping strategies, such as how to deal with homophobic comments from friends, as well as offering a “bilingual expression of empathy” grounded in both the LGBTQ world and the Orthodox experience, Novich said.

“Some of it is just the language, knowing both worlds, knowing what happens at Shabbat tables, knowing the types of conversations that come up, knowing what rabbis talk about in shul,” said Novich, who is gay and grew up in a modern Orthodox family.

The series will also contribute to a healthier online environment for the community. An Anti-Defamation League survey released last week also showed that nearly half of all LGBTQ Americans, and a quarter of all Jews in the US, faced online harassment in the past year.

The videos will be between 30 and 60 seconds, and despite the serious topic, will aim to be lighthearted and positive. The first clip, released last month, focused on celebrating Pride Month as an Orthodox Jew.

@jewishqueeryouth

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JQY also provides in-person mental health support and other resources and activities for those who are able to get to the group’s drop-in center in Manhattan, and offers training for mental health professionals.

Some parts of the Orthodox community are welcoming to LGBTQ people, but many religious institutions and groups have a contentious relationship with the gay community.

New York’s Yeshiva University, the flagship modern Orthodox institution of higher learning, has waged a charged, yearslong battle against its undergraduate campus Pride group. The university refuses to grant the club official recognition, arguing that approving the group would infringe on its religious beliefs.

The suicide of a gay Orthodox graduate of the university in May underscored some of the challenges for LGBTQ community members in the religious world, his friends said.

“Being a young person in the Orthodox Jewish community and realizing you’re queer is not a fun moment. You often feel ashamed and like you have to keep it a secret,” Novich said. “The truth is the challenges continue.”

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