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Monday, September 1, 2014

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Hillel starts new group for gay students

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The logo of the LGBTQ Jewish group

TORONTO — Hillel of Greater Toronto has launched a new group to help gay Jewish students and young professionals bridge their cultural and sexual identities.

LGBTQ Jews, which represents lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer young Jews, was founded to address a need expressed by Toronto-area students, said Sara Cuneo, Hillel of Greater Toronto’s engagement co-ordinator.

“We recognized that among our student base there are LGBTQ Jewish students who wanted to see out of Hillel some sort of program or service that would be catered towards that population,” she said.

Until recently, Hillel partially funded Kulanu Toronto, a social group for Jewish LGBTQ people of all ages.

Cuneo said Hillel saw a need to start another group that catered specifically to students and young professionals.

“The people who come out to Kulanu events tend to be of an older demographic, so there was an expressed need from Hillel students and young professionals that they wanted something that targeted their [age group],” she said.

“Kulanu for us really stands as a model for what LGBTQ programming can look like. We’re also interested in providing social and cultural programs to students and young professionals and they’ve really done a lot of groundbreaking work in the community,” Cuneo said, adding that Kulanu’s executive director Justine Apple helped put her in touch with students and youths who would be interested in the new group.

On Jan. 19, LGBTQ Jews held its kick-off event, a meet-and-greet held at the Wolfond Centre for Campus Jewish Life, which later moved to a local University of Toronto pub called the Red Room.

“The response we’ve gotten has just been incredible. People are coming out of the woodwork and saying, ‘Thank you, we really wanted to see this happen,’” Cuneo said.

Ryan Kraft, a 28-year-old at George Brown College studying to be a sign language interepreter, said he’s thrilled about joining the new Hillel initiative.

“We’re all really excited about it. This is an important community group and we’re thrilled that this is coming together,” said Kraft, who came out to his family when he was a 15-year-old student at the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto.

Kraft said he’s encouraged that people seem to be more accepting and aware of people’s sexual identities.

“It is a different world from when I came out 13 years ago,” he said. “There are a lot more resources now than there were when I was younger, and I think taking advantage of those resources is really important.

“Groups like [Tanenbaum] CHAT’s new gay-straight alliance is an excellent, excellent initiative, and I think LGBTQ Jews is an excellent initiative.”

Cuneo said she hopes to network and co-ordinate with other like-minded campus groups including U of T’s LGBTOUT, which might have Jewish members who could be interested in Hillel’s programing.

Kraft added that in addition to social events, LGBTQ Jews also plans to hold educational programs, including bringing in representatives from Aguda, the Israeli LBGT advocacy organization, to do a presentation.

Cuneo said this group offers people the opportunity “to explore the intersection of religious and sexual identities.

“I think it is important to let students who identify as LGBTQ to know that it is possible to bridge the two identities and that they don’t have to be at odds with one another.”

For more information, contact sara.cuneo@hilleltoronto.org.

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