More voices are speaking out about their experiences with JONAH, a so-called “ex-gay” program aimed at the Jewish community. Chaim Levin was raised in an Orthodox Jewish community and now identifies as both gay and Orthodox. Levin was recently interviewed by Jacques Berlinerblau, director of the Program for Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University, for the Faith Complex series in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Berlinerblau interviewed Levin after Levin’s video for the It Gets Better project was met with accusations of “self-indulgence” from other members of the Orthodox community. The article’s author, who knew Levin from summer camp, asks why Orthodox LGBT people cannot “struggle silently and heroically as do so many others?”
Chaim Levin’s answer to his detractors is simple: LGBT acceptance in the Orthodox community is a matter of life and death. Levin has chosen not to identify with more progressive movements within Judaism, all of which are accepting of LGBT people, because he wants to help other LGBT Orthodox Jews avoid the pain and hopelessness he experienced. He wants to help parents understand that sending their children to a program like JONAH will not change their sexual orientation because you cannot “daven [pray] the gay away.” Health experts like the American Psychological Association have denounced and debunked any attempt to “convert” gay people into straight people, but unlike Christian “ex-gay” programs, JONAH seems to focus on what Levin refers to as "fake psychological methods" to change sexual orientation.
GLAAD’s Religion, Faith, & Values program has previously addressed the growing divide within Orthodox Judaism in regard to the place of LGBT Jews. Other advocates, like Jayson Littman, the founder of HeBro, and Mordechai Levovitz, who runs Jewish Queer Youth, have spoken about the importance of acceptance and the dangers of family rejection. We applaud Chaim Levin for his courage in speaking openly about his experiences with JONAH and his commitment to helping other LGBT Orthodox Jews.