Another Gay-Related Suicide?

by Larry Kaufman

Who would have thought that New Jersey, one of the handful of states that recognizes civil unions and same-sex domestic partnerships, would have made the news twice in just a few days for providing an atmosphere hostile to the LGBT community?

The Tyler Clementi suicide has received enough media attention that we need only deplore it here without recapping the details. The more recent flare-up will almost certainly receive less media attention, and thus deserves recounting here, not only for the bad news in the story, but for the good news as well.

A week ago, it appears, the New Jersey Jewish Standard inaugurated a new policy of publishing the wedding announcements of same-sex couples (eight years after its journalistic colleagues at the New York Times began doing so). On October 4th, Editor Rebecca Boroson announced that its first such publication had elicited a firestorm of commentary, both pro and con, and that out of deference to the protests from the Orthodox community, the policy was being rescinded

The good news is that, within twenty-four hours of announcing the new policy of not publishing such announcements, the publication had received 184 indignant emails – a handful of them indignant that the “offending” item had been published, but the overwhelming majority castigating the Standard for its bigotry (many of them calling attention to the special sensitivity to LGBT issues that the Clementi case should have engendered). Influenced in great measure by the leadership of the Reform Movement and its institutions, the climate of acceptance has spread beyond our own boundaries, and the spontaneous grass-roots protests in this instance are particularly gratifying. (When I read on-line comments on most issues, I am un-nerved by the number of posts and their hostility to my own positions – and I often suspect that many of these vindictive statements have been orchestrated by “the forces of reaction.”)

I have no idea what kind of pressure, if any, the Standard had been under to start printing gay wedding announcements – but whatever it may have been, it was clearly under the radar. If the Standard is so concerned about community sensitivities, one would think they would have done their due diligence in advance, and come to the conclusion that the issue was too hot for them to handle. I have no idea how many Orthodox readers and advertisers the Standard has, nor how this number compares with the number of readers with ties to the LGBT community – but if that was to impact the Standard’s criterion for decision-making, again they should have counted first.

Now, given the ineptitude with which they made and unmade their policy, they have positioned themselves as being in thrall to the Orthodox community, as being insensitive to the LGBT community, and as being wishy-washy and/or careless in their policy development. Having shot themselves in the right foot, they chose to cure the pain, or at least equalize it, by shooting themselves in the left foot.

As the reading world transitions itself from printed delivery to on-line delivery of information, and also from generation and dissemination of information by professional journalists to generation by bloggers, tweeters, Facebookers, and others whose competence and credibility is vetted only by themselves, all publishers are part of an endangered species, and the wise heads in Jewish journalism recognize this, and are calling for more cooperation and less duplication.

Technology, competition, assimilation, and demographics are all waving red flags at the Jewish media. But even if a winnowing out is inevitable, nobody wants to see the Jewish press weakened. That’s what makes it so sad to watch a paper self-destruct. As we look at the New Jersey Jewish Standard, let’s remember the words we read in our synagogues just a few weeks ago – It is not the death of sinners You seek, but that they should turn from their ways and live. Ms. Boroson, are you listening?

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Larry Kaufman

About Larry Kaufman

Laurence (Larry) Kaufman, z"l, was a member of Beth Emet, the Free Synagogue, in Evanston IL, where he coached b'nai mitzvah candidates on their divrei Torah. A long-time Reform Movement activist, he served on the North American Board of URJ, the North American Council of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, the Board of ARZA, and was a past president of Temple Sholom of Chicago. Even while semi-retired, he consulted with an Israeli technology company on its U.S. public relations and marketing communications.

4 Responses to “Another Gay-Related Suicide?”

  1. avatar

    According to JTA the New Jersey Jewish Standard has issued a new statement, apologizing for reacting too quickly, but NOT announcing they have changed their mind again.
    What they are now doing, the publisher says, is holding more meetings to better take the temperature of the community.
    Or, as I read the situation, having shot themselves in both feet, they are now putting their foot in their mouth. Soon we will be able to say of the publisher, Every time he opens his mouth, it’s to change feet.

  2. avatar
    Former Reform Jew Reply October 6, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    I don’t have access to NJJS circulation numbers, but perhaps a growing percentage of their readership are Orthodox Jews, for the simple reason that they are the only group who need something on paper to read over shabbat.
    Everyone else can go online, as they do everyday, and read a variety of Jewish and general news from around the world.

  3. avatar

    Thanks to URJ for once again supporting your LGBT members.
    Congregation Beth El Binah
    Dallas, TX

  4. avatar

    As a member of the Orthodox community in question, I wonder how many Orthodox Jews were even upset by the inclusion of the announcement. I wasn’t, despite my not believing in same sex Jewish Weddings. Who am I to mix in in someone else’s religious decisions? Over Shabbos, when we sometimes discuss these things with friends, it did not even come up, even from my more right wing friends.

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