Note: One member spoke but wished to remain anonymous, therefore their name is not listed.
Q: What are your experiences right now pertaining to the intersections of your sexuality and your religion (Judaism)?
A (Emily): This is something that I’ve struggled with a lot in the last couple of years, and I believe that my sexuality has made me a more ethical and moral Jew. I care more about human rights and civil rights. I’m more committed to acknowledging the diversity within the Jewish and the LGBTQ+ communities for what they are, and more committed to [supporting] human rights of struggling peoples such Palestinians. I think that my Judaism and my sexuality make Shabbat services more touching.
A: I see them [my sexuality and religion] as really rooting myself in my past. My Judaism is very rooted in my family and so is my sexuality. My uncle is gay, and I’ve been raised in a very accepting family. When I’m trying to figure out who I am as a person, it’s been important to realize that I’m pulling not only from my Jewish, queer, or womanly experiences, but from all of those things combined.
A (Emily): Coming from a household where I was raised by a Jewish-Lesbian Holocaust survivor, I was educated on the 1930’s queer community in Berlin pre-holocaust. There was this beauty and diversity developing. Fascism effected the queer and Jewish communities. I was taught about the history of LGBT rights in America and how many Jews played a major role in that change. So, I believe that queer Jews are twice as motivated toward liberation and social justice.
Q: As a student, how do you feel that your intersection of identities impacts your college experience here at Penn State?
A(Sarah): I think that they have allowed me to create and join spaces where I can learn and talk about things. When I started deciding that both of these identities did have intersections and there wasn’t really a space here for it, Emily and I started working with Hillel to bring programs like “Meet the LGBTQ Rabbi’s”. So, I’ve really had to create spaces for people like me that I think others will benefit from.
A: I’m an intern in the LGBTQ+ Resource Center and I think that who I am allows me to be involved on a more holistic level. I can engage with students not only on the level of sexuality and gender, but also pertaining to faith. Hillel allows me to shape a more holistic space to welcome different experiences and identities.
Interview with Sarah Shulbank-Smith, Senior Psychology Major
Q: What are some specific difficulties you’ve experienced regarding your intersections?
A: I have had more negative experiences in the LGBTQ community than in the Jewish spaces I’m in because I’m in fairly liberal Jewish spaces. Religion is a taboo topic in the LGBTQ community I feel, so a lot of people will assume that I don’t believe in God because “God wants to smite us,” or something like that. I’ve had to learn how to not be afraid to speak up about my beliefs in very specific ways and be able to explain how I view God.
Q: Do you think you’ve been asked to defend yourself often because of your identities?
A: Yes. Yes. Yes. Religion has been such a main contributor to arguments against LGBT people, so being both, I have to speak up for myself a lot of the time.
Q: If you could think of something that you would want a non-Jewish, cisgender, straight person to know about Queer Jews specifically, what would you want to say?
A: I think Queer Jews are strong people. If you look at our constant history of getting beaten down and getting stronger, the intersections of those communities are a very strong survivor story.
Q: Do you have a role model at Penn State?
A: Allison Subasic, Director of the LGBTQ+ Resource center. She is excellent at helping people find the right resources and raising people up in general.
Q: Where do you think there might be empty spaces in the University?
A: I think the intersections of identities should be explored more. I think a lot of the religious orgs are helping to provide spaces for people who are trying to see how their identities intersect. In general, intersectionality needs to be more addressed and understood.
Q: What would you say has been the most rewarding program at Penn State for you?
A: I was content director at the State of State conference this year, one of two. I think it’s a cool program because it shows that the student body loves our school so much that we make sure we do anything possible to make it better.