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Jewish-Affiliated Yeshiva University Sued After Banning LGBTQ+ Club

Yeshiva University

The lawsuit follows multiple failed attempts to start a queer student club at the New York university.

A group of students and alumni at Yeshiva University in New York City have filed a lawsuit against the school for denying them the right to form an LGBTQ+ student club. The students are claiming the school is violating the city's human rights law.

Yeshiva University is a private Modern Orthodox Jewish university of about 3,000 students. Students there have been attempting to gain official club status for their LGBTQ+ organization, but after several failed attempts, have moved forward with the lawsuit.

Molly Meisels, who came out as bisexual while at the school, is one recent graduate represented in the lawsuit who spoke with The Washington Post about the issue. She said that while a student, she started a feminist club that was also initially ridiculed, but is now accepted by university staff. She says clubs like this are important to build ties on small campuses like Yeshiva's. "What a queer club provides is community, especially where community is so vital," she said.

While many Orthodox Jews are hesitant to embrace LGBTQ+ members, Yeshiva University registers itself as a nonsectarian corporation, opening it up to different rules than if it was registered as being affiliated with a religious group or church.

Katie Rosenfeld, an attorney who is representing some of the students in the lawsuit, says it's that registration as a secular organization that allows for this lawsuit.

Because the school receives government and state funding, it shouldn't qualify for religious exemptions, she argues. "Yeshiva is an outlier in trying to have its cake and eat it, too, in terms of its legal organization by failing to follow what's required of them under the law," she said.

Being recognized as an official university club would allow the LGBTQ+ group to use campus facilities for meetings, receive funding, and advertise on campus platforms. Recognized student groups were also given free premium Zoom access during the pandemic.

This isn't the first time students have tried to get a queer club started at the school. In 2019, students were told that if they wanted to form a club, it would only be allowed if it wasn't called a "gay straight alliance," and did not include the terms "LGBT," "Queer," or "Gay," in the title. They were also told a club on general tolerance would be allowed, but one on specific LGBTQ+ inclusion would not.

Now, however, students have support from some of the faculty. On Tuesday, 48 members of the University's Cardozo School of Law wrote a letter to University President Rabbi Ari Berman that called this refusal to recognize the club "wrong and unlawful."

Yeshiva University responded to the lawsuit in a statement. "At the heart of our Jewish values is love -- love for God and love for each of His children," the statement read. "Our LGBTQ+ students are our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, family and friends. Our policies on harassment and discrimination against students on the basis of protected classifications including LGBTQ+ are strong and vigorously enforced. Our Torah-guided decision about this club in no way minimizes the care and sensitivity that we have for each of our students, nor the numerous steps the university has already taken."

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