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(Photo illustration Tablet Magazine; original photos Shutterstock)

Leading Orthodox Rabbis will meet with mental health professionals to publicly discuss the controversial issue of conversion therapy for LGBT Jews at a mental health conference on Sunday. Earlier this month, the Obama Administration said it supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy on gay and transgender minors.

“The end goal of this conference is that our leaders and experts will be well informed and able to provide proper care to LGBT Jews,” Mordechai Levovitz, a conference co-chair, told me. A gay, Orthodox man, Levovitz is also the founder and director of JQY, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing crisis and support resources for at-risk LGBT youth in the Orthodox & Hasidic community.

Levovitz explained that the conference is a way for the orthodox rabbinical community and the therapeutic community to work together. “Therapists can’t provide care if they don’t understand the orthodox community and rabbis can’t provide proper guidance if they don’t understand the psychological issues at hand,” he said. “This conference isn’t about advocacy but rather it’s an opportunity for learning and dialogue.”

“The question that this conference is asking isn’t whether you can be both gay and Orthodox, because that is a very judgmental question. The question is: How can we provide responsible support for LGBT people in the orthodox community?” In an interview, Levovitz explained that this question challenges the Jewish leaders in power as opposed to victims in the community.

According to Levovitz, JQY influenced the Rabbinical Council of America’s 2012 decision to rescind their recommendation of JONAH – the largest Jewish conversion therapy organization.

Sean Herzfeld, a 15-year-old JQY member who recently came out to his Orthodox high school, was quoted in a press release as saying that “It’s not enough to simply tell LGBT teens in religious communities that it gets better later. We have to work within the community to make it better now.”

The Keynote speakers at the conference will be RCA Honorary President Rabbi Shmuel Goldin and RCA Executive Vice President Rabbi Mark Dratch. They will joined by mental health professionals including Dr. Jack Drescher and Dr. Mark Blechner, Editor in Chief Emeritus of the journal Contemporary Psychoanalysis, and Dr Alison Feit, Executive Director of The Jewish Center for Trauma and Recovery. JQY will hold the conference at the Kraft Center in New York together with the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Psychology.

Gay and Lesbian youth from families that reject their sexual or gender preferences are more than 8 times as likely to have attempted suicide.

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