City comptroller calls on Yeshiva University to recognize queer student group

Brooklyn Councilmember Brad Lander is urging Yeshiva University to recognize the YU Pride Alliance, a student group on campus.
Brooklyn Councilmember Brad Lander is urging Yeshiva University to recognize the YU Pride Alliance, a student group on campus.
Donna Aceto

New York City’s Comptroller Brad Lander delivered a letter to Yeshiva University (YU) president Ari Berman strongly urging the school to recognize the undergraduate queer student group, YU Pride Alliance, or else risk losing funding.

The Orthodox Jewish university, which is fighting against the LGBTQ group’s efforts to gain recognition on campus, has claimed it is exempt from complying with the New York City Human Rights Law’s public accommodation provision as a religious organization. At the same time, however, the school has also claimed it is an independent educational institution that received millions of dollars in public funding.

Yeshiva University received “some $8.8 million in city funding since 2010,” Lander noted in the letter, which reminded Berman that “all recipients of public funding from the city must attest that they are in compliance with City laws and statutes, including the New York City Human Rights Law.”

“I must urge your institution to change course and offer a secure environment for your LGBTQ+ students and staff to create a supportive space to rightfully express their full selves,” Lander wrote, stating that YU’s “own anti-discrimination policy is wholly undermined by the refusal to allow students to form this group within their own terms and mission.”

The university dug its heels in responding to the letter, calling the comptroller’s accusations and funding risk threat “false allegations” while pointing to the school’s new “Torah-based” LGBTQ student club.

“We have already established a path forward which provides loving and supportive spaces for our LGBTQ students. We kindly ask well-meaning politicians to please learn the facts before attacking our students’ Jewish education,” YU officials said in a statement, reported the Washington Examiner. The newspaper noted that YU announced additional on-campus support for LGBTQ students.

YU Pride Alliance members and their attorney declined to comment.

“They are letting the letter speak for itself,” a spokesperson for the YU Pride Alliance, who works for the Levinson Group, wrote in a text to Gay City News.

Founded as a Jewish rabbinical seminary in 1886, YU established itself as a college in 1928 with liberal arts programs. The college began offering graduate programs in 1935. In 1945, YU officially became a university, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

Lander’s warning is another push in a mounting battle launched by members of the unofficial queer student group, YU Pride Alliance, at YU in 2021.

The letter comes nearly two months after state lawmakers also called into question millions of dollars YU received from the state in a January 11 letter. Concerned about discriminatory treatment of YU queer students, out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal of Manhattan’s District 27 as well as State Senators Liz Krueger of Manhattan’s District 28 and Toby Ann Stavisky of Queens’ District 16 accused YU of engaging in behavior that “is wholly inconsistent with the purposes for which state funding is provided.”

“We will not abide the use of state funds to support discriminatory behavior that excludes LGBTQ students from their right to an equal education,” the lawmakers stated in that letter. They requested an immediate account of how the university spent the state funding.

Students of the YU Pride Alliance sued the university under the New York City Human Rights Law in 2021 after 12 years of being denied recognition by the university. The university refused to officially recognize the student group on campus, claiming it would be “inconsistent with the school’s Torah values and the religious environment it seeks to maintain.”

The case rose to the United States Supreme Court last year, but only on narrow grounds, and the court returned the case to New York County Supreme Court Justice Lynn R. Kotler’s June 14, 2022 order requiring the university to recognize the queer student group under New York law. The university responded by suspending all student clubs, citing the need to protect YU’s “religious freedom” following the high court’s decision in September 2022. The YU Pride Alliance offered a compromise after the university was criticized by former students and Orthodox Jewish parent groups of LGBTQ children. The university responded by allegedly creating what the YU Pride Alliance described as a “sham” LGBTQ student group a month later.

YU Pride Alliance members accused the university of staging a fake club not formed, led, or participated in by students. They alleged that the university was getting “growing calls from its donors, alumni, faculty, policymakers, and the business community” as the queer student club continued to fight for our rights,” reported The Times of Israel.

“It is a feeble attempt by YU to continue denying LGBTQ students equal treatment as full members of the YU student community,” the group said.