JQY Receives $1M to Reach LGBTQ Orthodox & Chassidic Teens Across U.S.

JQY (Jewish Queer Youth), a nonprofit that supports and empowers LGBTQ youth from Orthodox, Chassidic, and Sephardic/Mizrahi homes, announced on Dec. 27, it received a $1 million donation that will enable the New York City-based organization to vastly expand critical social services to LGBTQ youth in major Jewish communities around the US.

The gift, by Toronto-based real estate developer Paul Austin, CEO of the Salpam Group, and his partner, Dalip Girdhar, who works in information technology at TD Bank, is JQY’s biggest donation since it officially launched as a nonprofit in 2012, and is the largest donation ever made for queer Jews in Orthodoxy, the fastest-growing denomination within American Judaism.

JQY’s National Drop-in Center program and warmline will be renamed the JQY Paul Austin and Dalip Girdhar (The P. Austin Family Foundation) Drop-in Center and Hopeline.

“We are deeply grateful to Paul and Dalip,” said JQY Executive Director Rachael Fried. “This incredible gift will change the future for Jewish queer youth, allowing us to bring local support to the teens who need it most. Over the next five years, we will be creating a national safety net which will serve as a life-saving resource for years to come.”

JQY will use the gift to bring its Drop-in Center initiative, a comprehensive in-person clinical program that operates in New York, to local Orthodox communities in New Jersey, Baltimore, Chicago, and South Florida; and to expand the staffing of the organization’s crisis phone line.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be able to make a gift like this, and we know it will be used well,” said Austin. “We wanted it to be a transformative gift, and we hope it will be.”

Fried said that during the pandemic, JQY, like many nonprofits, pivoted to providing several of its key programs, including the Drop-in Center, virtually. This meant that teens from all over the world were able to access JQY programming for the first time. Participants in both Chicago and Baltimore created informal local gatherings and asked for JQY programming in their communities. That, and other similar events, underscored the pressing need to grow JQY’s services across the country.

JQY believes that the demand for such services is growing daily. Various surveys have shown that between six and 20 percent of all American youth identify as LGBTQ. If just six percent of the 110,000 students in New York City yeshivas are LGBTQ, then almost 7,000 people in New York City alone could find support from JQY, Fried said. Fried estimates that JQY has connected with more than 10,000 LGBTQ Jewish youth since its first meeting in 2002.

“There are certainly tens of thousands of LGBTQ Jewish youths worldwide,” she said.

While there is generally growing awareness and acceptance of LGBTQ identity, Fried said that such awareness and acceptance is not typical in the Orthodox communities that JQY serves. Most youth served by JQY are still closeted and fear coming out to their families or communities, which makes them uniquely vulnerable. Drop-in Center intakes have shown that over 70 percent of JQY participants have reported considering suicide in the past.

The JQY Paul Austin and Dalip Girdhar (The P. Austin Family Foundation) Drop-in Center expansion will begin with once-a-month physical locations that are easily accessible to Orthodox teens. Each center will replicate the warm and welcoming atmosphere of the JQY New York Drop-in Center, with bright artwork, games, kosher dinner, a Jewish queer library, and social workers on-hand for individual counseling.

“Our Drop-in Centers are places of celebration, safe environments where young people can reaffirm their self-esteem and self-worth,” said Mordechai Levovitz, JQY’s founder and Clinical Director. “Gender and orientation do not have to be a catastrophe; in healthy and positive settings they can be things about ourselves that we learn to explore, express, engage with, and even love.”

 

 

 

 

 

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