LEIBLER Yavneh College has launched a student wellbeing policy focusing on the safety, inclusivity and acceptance of all students, staff and community members who identify as LGBTQI+.
It is understood the extensive policy is the first of its kind to be adopted by a Melbourne Jewish school.
The policy – which addresses halachah, as well as the emotional importance of the issue – has been released in recognition of research that shows LGBTQI+ students are particularly vulnerable to bullying and harm (as are children of LGBTQI+ parents) manifesting in higher rates of absenteeism, poorer mental health outcomes, and increased risk-taking behaviour including self-harm and suicide.
Based on the publication by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, The Wellbeing of LGBTI+ Pupils – A Guide for Orthodox Schools, the policy has been adapted for an Australian context. It was overseen by his son, Mizrachi senior rabbi and Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV) co-vice-president, Rabbi Danny Mirvis and school psychologist Adele Ribnick.
In a letter to college parents, principal Cherylyn Skewes together with co-chairs Ari Schachna and Gerard Max said, “…Caring for the wellbeing of LGBTI+ students does not negate nor detract from our commitment to Torah and Torah values. It is our obligation, as part of our commitment to Torah.”
Strategies within the policy include educating students and families; fostering a supportive environment that encourages the development of positive relationships and communication between staff, students and parents/carers; promoting responsible bystander behaviour; responding to discrimination; maintaining records of reported incidents; and providing a strong pastoral care team.
Eitan Meyerowitz is a Yavneh alumnus who recently shared his experience as an LGBTQI+ former student in a public conversation with Rabbi Danny Mirvis.
Despite knowing he was gay from year 9, Meyerowitz did not come out until after graduating, saying that while he never heard any homophobic slurs at school, “there would have been a stigma around me”.
He reflected, “[What] students who are LGBTQI really want to hear is that you’re still part of the Jewish community. You’re not out of the tent. You can still daven at shule. I think I knew that, but hearing that from you [Rabbi Mirvis] really took a weight off my shoulders.”