PHOTO: David H. Zysman Hall, a Moorish Revival building on Yeshiva University's Wilf Campus. Courtesy: Wikipedia. Edited by We Rep STEM.

A lawsuit has been filed against New York’s Yeshiva University (YU) by students for its refusal to recognize an LGBTQ+ student club. The plaintiffs argue the school cannot discriminate because it is a legally registered nonsectarian corporation under the New York Human Rights Law, a distinction it has held since 1969.

Speaking with reporters Tuesday, Katherine Rosenfeld, the lead lawyer representing the students, said they have a “straight-forward case”:

“Undergraduate students at Yeshiva University would like to form an LGBTQ student group to provide peer support, community, host events, coffees, all the activities that student clubs exist to provide and which are so important to the development and success of college students,” Rosenfeld said.

“Unfortunately Yeshiva University has repeatedly refused to recognize the LGBTQ student group because it is for LGBTQ students and about LGBTQ issues in its mission. This is discrimination under New York City human rights law, plain and simple.”

The Modern Orthodox Jewish university, which has about 3000 students, said in fall 2020 that its policies prohibit discrimination against students based on a number of protected classifications, including sexual orientation.

But in that same statement, YU suggested the club would not be recognized due to religious reasons.

“The message of Torah on this issue is nuanced, both accepting each individual with love and affirming its timeless prescriptions,” YU administrators said. 

“While students will of course socialize in gatherings they see fit, forming a new club as requested under the auspices of YU will cloud this nuanced message.”

Officials responded to the lawsuit in a statement quoted by the Washington Post, calling LGBTQ+ students “our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, family and friends.”

It continues:

 “Our policies on harassment and discrimination against students on the basis of protected classifications including LGBTQ+ are strong and vigorously enforced. Our Torah-guided decision about this club in no way minimizes the care and sensitivity that we have for each of our students, nor the numerous steps the university has already taken.”

Inside Higher Ed reports the university’s decision to deny recognition to student-led LGBTQ+ groups dates back to 2009, which refused to acknowledge a club that year and then again in 2019 and 2020.

The lawsuit was filed following an official denial of club status at the start of the current academic year. On the heels of denying the club official recognition, YU announced the introduction of LGBTQ+-inclusive policies, including “diversity, inclusion, and sensitivity training” and a greater focus on “diverse student groups, including sexual orientation and gender identity.” 


On Tuesday, 51 YU professors a letter sent via counsel to Rabbi Ari Berman, urging leadership to recognize the club.

“Discrimination against a student organization solely because of its focus on LGBTQ+ issues has no place in a University that holds itself out as a community committed to the flourishing and equal dignity of all its members,” reads an excerpt from the letter.

“We have a collective obligation to ensure that each student is supported and given the opportunity to thrive, and refusing to extend access to University facilities to this student group on the same terms all other student groups enjoy will prevent LGBTQ+ students, together with their allies, from creating the space to find that support,” it adds, also reiterating the argument that the discrimination is unlawful.


The suit claims YU was advised by lawyers more than 25 years ago there was “no credible argument” to ignore LGBTQ+ student groups, a legal analysis that “is as correct today as it was in 1995,” it reads.

Yeshiva isn’t the first private religious institution to face criticisms for its treatment of the LGBTQ+ community. As the Washington Post points out, religious organizations are sometimes provided leeway to discriminate based on religious grounds.

In March 2020, protests erupted at Brigham Young University (BYU), another privately-owned religious establishment, after officials circulated a statement re-iterating the school’s anti-LGBTQ stance. BYU is located in Provo, Utah and owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It has been under fire for years for imposing a restrictive “honour code” on students and staff.

The code bans homosexuality, premarital sex, and alcohol consumption, among other things, policies it is legally able to enforce due to its status as a religious and private institution.

But Rosenfeld says YU is an “outlier,” because of its long-held secular status and should therefore be held to the same anti-discrimination rules as other nonsectarian institutions.

“Yeshiva is … trying to have its cake and eat it, too, in terms of its legal organization by failing to follow what’s required of them under the law,” Rosenfeld said.