Embrace the rainbow: GSA club presidents learn at Keshet Leadership Project shabbaton

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photo courtesy of Henry Sosland

Juniors Henry Sosland and Lily Daroff co-chaired the Keshet shabbaton together this year. Sosland’s experiences at the shabbaton inspired his goals for CESJDS’ GSA club.

When junior Henry Sosland went to his second Keshet shabbaton, he never expected to learn so much that would end up aiding the future plans of CESJDS’ Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club.

Sosland and junior Lily Daroff co-chaired a shabbaton for Keshet the weekend of March 3 with their friend, Lennon Cantwell, who is also a part of the organization. Keshet is “a national organization that works for full LGBTQ equality and inclusion in Jewish life,” according to their website. As co-chairs, Sosland and Daroff planned and oversaw the weekend’s activities.

At Sosland’s first Keshet shabbaton last year, he had an amazing experience and learned a lot from it, but he also thought that the shabbaton was targeted to people within the LGBT community with “complex situations” such as those whose families are not accepting of them or those who have mental health issues. He and Daroff decided to apply to co-chair the shabbaton in order to get more involved with the organization and better identify with the program.

Sosland and Daroff are also involved with LGBT education at JDS as they are co-presidents for the GSA club. The two noticed a lack of an active club for focusing on the LGBT community their freshman year, so they decided to revamp the GSA club in the 2016-2017 school year.

The club meets once every three weeks on Fridays during high school lunch to talk about current events targeted at the allies in the club. According to Sosland, there is not much of a need for a safe space because the school lends itself to that type of an environment.

“For maybe some schools you’d probably need more of a support group kind of thing, but in here that’s not really necessary because it’s a pretty open and accepting school,” Sosland said.

Dean of Students Roslyn Landy said that the club originally began because there was a need of a support system for gay students many years back. However, she said that while the club was always “around,” it is not always an active presence in the school.

“In order for GSA to be active, you need students who are either gay or who are passionate allies,” Landy said. “Since it is a student-run club, you need students interested in running the club for it to be successful.”

Sosland’s passion for this topic has driven him to bring what he learned from this year’s Keshet shabbaton to the GSA club. Before the shabbaton, Sosland had thought that the GSA club was limited to discussing current events during meetings because JDS is mainly comprised of heterosexual students and faculty. After the shabbaton, Sosland realized that there was so much more the club could do, such as raising money or spreading awareness of problems the LGBT community faces.

Sosland has set a new goal for the club to raise money for homeless LGBT kids. Not only does Sosland hope to make a difference through this fundraising, but he also hopes to highlight the issues within the LBGT community along with the club’s staff advisor, history and Jewish history teacher Elizabeth Savopoulos.

“I think it’s important that the school has a place for people to either explore their own identity or to think about sort of the broader society and all sorts of different identities and groups that fit into that,” Savopoulos said. “I think it’s especially important as a Jewish day school that we are affirming of all members of our community including gender and sexual minorities.”

Savopoulos finds it “nice” that high school students are beginning to get involved in and talking about the Jewish gay community. Additionally, Savopoulos believes that it is important for students to have a united group where they can be heard and share current issues.

Sosland believes that while the club has made progress, there are many other issues such as transgender discrimination to focus on as well.

“Even though it might like seem like in JDS that it’s not important, it’s vital to some to some people and it’s definitely important for a broader scale,” Sosland said.

This story was featured in the Volume 35, Issue 5 print edition of The Lion’s Tale, published on March 22, 2018.