By Jenn L., NFTY Member
Three years ago, I was your typical high school freshman. I kept my head down, didn’t voice too many controversial opinions, and mostly just tried to fit in. One subject I was not silent about, however, was equal rights for the LGBTQ community.
At first, some of my friends were slightly concerned with my passionate drive for equality, and they warned me that I “might be coming off to others as not-straight.” After my fiery riposte, they backed down, but their reaction still discouraged me. Why would peoples’ speculation about my sexual orientation matter to me? Furthermore, why would those people feel the need to judge me in the first place?
Well, trying to explain how “God made everyone equal” to a group of atheists was neither fruitful nor beneficial, so I was excited and hopeful when I attended my first NFTY event in the fall. I was my usual bumbling, shy self in the beginning, but I quickly opened up once I realized how unreserved everyone else was. There were people flying into each other’s arms for bear hugs, what I learned to be known as “cuddle puddles,” and people reclining casually in one another’s laps. I glanced around, half-expecting to see the usual looks of judgment that came with people being themselves. There were none. I was so inspired by the acceptance I found at from these NFTY-ites I almost cried.
Throughout the event, I found myself impressed with the maturity and tolerance with which the teens around me presented their views. In one discussion, when I explained how important equality and LGBT rights were to me, I was not met with responses of, “Oh, interesting…” or silenced by awkward body language. Instead, I was applauded. Literally applauded. People tripped eagerly over their words to share their own stories and experiences with equality. It was a feeling of relief to talk to these teenagers, who used Reform Jewish morals to help define their views – just like me. And it was a feeling of euphoria to realize that I would be spending four incredible years with such amazing teenagers.
Fast-forward to today. I am currently a member of my high school’s gay-straight alliance and a proud member of the “LGBTQIA Activism in NFTY” group on Facebook, and yes, I owe NFTY for helping me realize that I have a voice and that my voice is valued. I understand now that I can make a difference through NFTY and my Jewish community. And trust me. I intend to.