We were sitting outside of a coffee shop. My friend was angry with me. I was pleading with him. "Don't you understand the need for compassion?" I questioned, filled with righteous fervor. "These are people who are truly struggling and who need a voice, an outlet for expression. They need others to understand who they are. Too many people are homophobic, hating homosexuality and homosexuals rather than simply acknowledging that it is a Torah prohibition. There's a line between those two points of view. These are people in pain."
"They can be in pain," my friend replied, "and there are many Roshei Yeshiva and Rabbanim who will be happy to speak to them about their pain. I just don't understand why it has to be made public. What's wrong with the don't-ask-don't-tell policy? This is a private matter. Why not speak to someone who can help them handle their emotions privately?"
"For one thing," I replied, "that doesn't help the student body. The student body as a whole has to realize that this is a real issue which friends of theirs are struggling with. They need to be more careful about who they judge and how they judge them. They have to understand that a Torah prohibition is a Torah prohibition, but it doesn't mean that anyone with homosexual feelings should be viewed through a lens of disgust."
"It's breaking a barrier," he warned. "To make this issue public is to be poretz the geder. Soon, not only will the issue be about Jews with homosexual feelings needing compassion, but it will be about larger matters. Gay pride, for instance. It's not going to stay contained."
Back then, I couldn't see eye to eye with my friend. Unfortunately, today I think I can.
There's a difference between understanding and support. To understand the dilemma of a person who is Orthodox who finds himself attracted to members of the same gender when the Torah states clearly that a man may not lie with a man as he does with a woman is important. It is necessary in order to understand the difficulty and pain that lies on this person's path, to treat them gently and with respect.
That does not suddenly mean that their every choice is okay. That to understand them is to support their conception of gay identity or gay pride. That their mentioning which men they find attractive in casual conversation is ideal. That their attendance at He'bro events is acceptable.
The concept of sin is a complicated one. Sin, as explained in various commentaries, is that which draws us away from God and closer to spiritual darkness. It is a form of spiritual cancer, eating away at the soul. To long to commit sins is part of human nature; after all, the heart of a man longs for evil from his youth. But that's not something to be proud of.
Someone who is struggling with being gay while also being Orthodox is similar, at least from the religious perspective, to someone struggling with other self-destructive tendencies. Obviously, a man being sexually attracted to another man is not obviously self-destructive in the way that anorexia, cutting or alcohol addiction may be. Those are all destructive patterns that affect the physical body, and thus are easier to spot. Yet from a religious point of view, to act upon one's gay feelings and really, to commit any sin- is to act in a self-destructive manner as you distance yourself from God.
People who struggle with a difficulty like this need support groups, which is why AA exists, anorexics are treated with a full team of specialized doctors and cutters have groups like S.A.F.E Alternatives. So it makes sense to organize support groups, speakers and forums. But that's very different from pride. Gay pride makes as much sense as anorexic pride, alcoholic pride or self-injuring pride if you really believe that to act on one's gay feelings is a sin. Gay identity is also odd from this perspective. Firstly, it seems shallow- is that really all that can be said about you- that your sexual orientation is gay? But worse, at least from a religious perspective, you're defining yourself by a potential sin you want to commit. It would make as much sense as my declaring that my identity is as a person who has the desire to touch my husband even when that is forbidden due to my status as a niddah. Why define myself by the sins I may long to commit?
What this means is one of three things. Either those who have feelings for those of the same gender and choose to "celebrate their gay identity" and support gay pride
a) don't really believe that to act on one's gay feelings is a sin which distances them from God, a spiritually self-destructive behavior
b) think that a feeling is different from an action and they can take pride in their desire to commit a sin as long as they don't commit the actual sin
c) simply haven't thought the matter through.
I support the struggle of those who are gay and who simultaneously wish to remain Orthodox Jews. I think it makes sense that they may wish to be acknowledged openly and allowed to speak at open forums, to meet others who are similarly struggling. I don't support the casual or cavalier attitude that may potentially follow, however. I don't think it's appropriate to consistently identify oneself as a potential sinner or cheer that process on. I wouldn't support that for any individual- I don't think it would be good or healthy for people to introduce themselves as 'Rena who wants to break the harchakos' or 'Talia who wants to eat treif' or 'Dina who wants to marry a non-Jew.' I don't think one's defining identity should appear within the context of potential sin. And I don't think it should be assumed that unless one supports this identity and pride in a feeling that leads to a spiritually self-destructive behavior, one is a sexist homophobic bigot.