A Jewish faith school in London has said claims it suggested a ‘gay cure’ group as an option for students who thought they might be gay are “false”.
In an article in the Jewish Chronicle, students allege that a sixth-form discussion on homosexuality at JFS ended with a slide displaying the logo of a ‘gay cure’ group and implicitly portrayed it as something they should explore if they thought they might be gay.
JONAH – Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (formerly Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality) – teaches that homosexuality can be “mitigated and potentially eliminated”.
But the headteacher of the school denies the group was being promoted to students.
Jonathan Miller told PinkNews.co.uk today the Jewish Studies lessons were designed to provoke debate in the older members of an “extraordinarily diverse” student body.
He said the material in the one lesson discussing homosexuality had been taught for years, and that it was “false” to suggest references to JONAH in that lesson were designed to promote the group.
In an article which says the school taught pupils “how to ‘cure gays’”, one student told the Jewish Chronicle: “We discussed whether someone chooses to be gay or not. Then there was the concluding voice of “the Jewish view”, where we looked at Orthodox Judaism, which condemns homosexuality.
“At the end, we were asked what we thought about religious Jews who might hate themselves because their religion condemns being gay. The last slide on the PowerPoint was a picture and a link to the JONAH website, after we were discussing what gay Orthodox Jews can do, if they hate themselves.
“I was appalled; it felt like it was saying, ‘If you are having doubts, check this out’.”
JFS, formerly the Jews’ Free School, is affiliated with the United Synagogue, an Orthodox organisation. While the school is funded by the state, parents pay separately for the religious elements of their child’s education.
The teacher also presented to pupils the Orthodox position on homosexuality, where gay acts are condemned.
A second pupil told the paper: “If I were gay or worrying about my sexuality, sitting through that lesson, I would have been so upset. They could have advertised other organisations, which are not there to convert but to support whatever decision people want to make. I know most people were offended by it.”
Dave Shaw of Jewish LGBT group Keshet UK said: “Keshet UK is highly concerned at allegations that students at JFS were not made aware of the social and support groups that exist for Jewish LGBT people in the UK. Our fear is that if awareness to these entities is restricted, young people could see reparative therapy as the only option, thereby highly increasing the risk of assimilation and causing them long term damage.”
Headteacher Jonathan Miller told PinkNews.co.uk: “We teach that Judaism would utterly condemn homophobia and discrimination. It is false that we promote JONAH as an organisation, or their views. We hope that students be given food for thought and opportunity for lively discussion in order to help them form their own views”.
He denies students were taught particular views were right or wrong in the lesson, which was designed to promote discussion, and said the school employs a student welfare officer to provide counselling on the campus.
He said a review would be undertaken as a result of students’ reactions and the reference to the group in the lesson material would be reconsidered.
Rabbi Aaron Goldstein, Co-Chair of the Rabbinic Conference of Liberal Judaism said: “Regardless of the intentions of the lesson plan, the presentation of such information was unsupportable. Attempts to justify its inclusion seem to demonstrate an inability to grasp the issues the school is seeking to address.”
“The duty of care for its pupils must be primary and providing this information is potentially damaging to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered students as well as drawing attention uncritically to a viewpoint that has no place in modern society.”
“Liberal Judaism has freely available on its website a pamphlet, ‘Lesbian and Gay Jews and Same-Sex relationships,’ that provides a progressive Jewish understanding of the importance all Jews hold in our community, regardless of sexual orientation.
“We are proud to have pioneered Same-Sex Commitment Ceremonies in the UK, for which we have published liturgies, and to be involved in lobbying for full LGBT equality in Civil Law.”