I started writing a version of this essay two years ago, during my final semester in Yeshiva College. My final semester, but I wasn’t graduating; I had spent the better half of the year filling out college transfer applications and now, as winter turned to spring, acceptance notices began appearing in my email inbox.
That I was leaving Yeshiva College was not a secret. From the first day of the academic year, I told everyone who would listen—friends, professors, my bedroom wall—that I was leaving. When asked, I said my departure was motivated by the College’s limited curriculum, which was true: For my senior thesis at Yale, I am writing about two black gay men—Marlon Riggs and Essex Hemphill—and their artistic responses to the AIDS epidemic, a research project which, despite the presence of brilliant faculty, I could never have pursued at Yeshiva University.
But the truth remains that I also used my academic reason as a cover for my more personal one: I am gay, and I left because I no longer felt safe at Yeshiva University. While at YU, I wasn’t out and was terrified of what such a public identity could mean.
Each morning, when I awoke, I forced myself to gather the strength required to learn, for yet another day, alongside rabbis that had publicly called gay people an abomination, blamed them for natural disasters, and advocated for conversion therapy—a pseudoscience so dangerous it has been outlawed in many states. I lived in constant fear of being discovered, and in my second semester, my mental health took a turn for the worse; I entered the darkest months of my life, and leaving YU literally became a life-and-death situation.