My name's Dalia Fleming. I was born and raised in London and I've just left university.
I'm Jewish. My mum is quite Orthodox; my dad isn't as religious. Because of my mum I went to an Orthodox synagogue. There were very clear differences in the roles for men and women. Men would sit at the front, women at the back. We couldn't start praying until there were ten men present, what is known as a minyan. It didn't matter how many women there were. My family weren't that observant but we did celebrate the main festivals like Passover, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hoshana. We would light the Sabbath candles on a Friday night and stay in together as a family.
Being from an Orthodox background I also went to an Orthodox Jewish school. Being in this school I started to ask how was this form of Judaism fair to women? I didn’t want to just say it's all rubbish, so I started asking questions of rabbis, rabbis wives, and teachers. But I never fully got the answers I was looking for. So I began to think there must be something else, somewhere where I could feel more comfortable.
These questions became more important when I was about 13 and I started really questioning my sexuality. By the time I was 15 if people asked I would say, at first, 'I'm not straight'. That was the label I gave myself - I knew I liked girls, I wasn't sure about boys.
Being in an Orthodox Jewish school I felt I had to be quite confident about who I was if I was going to survive and be who I was. At 15 I came out. I wouldn't hide away from it, if people asked questions I would just be myself. I was very lucky in that I had friends who treated me as the same person I was before they knew about me.
But my Jewish Studies teacher told us homosexuality is a sin, immoral. It was okay to have these feelings but it would be better to marry someone you do not love and live a life they believed was right, putting two people in a relationship without live, than act upon these feelings.
That was hard to hear. I decided to stand up for my identity; I didn't think religion should be an excuse for saying something so hurtful to a 15/16 year old. I was doing nothing wrong. Some of my friends stood up for me and the person I am, but others just went along with the teacher... that was fine, it showed me who my true friends were.
By the time we got to sixth form it got to the point where every lesson was the same: someone brought up homosexuality so I would have to stand up and say, 'what you're saying is not right, not acceptable. I had to say there's nothing destructive about it, it's just two people loving each other. I could not imagine why the God I believed in would have anything against that.
But I think I was quite lucky. I never found the dilemma a lot of my friends had about being Jewish and being gay. I think this is because I had questions early on about the rights of women within Judaism, so I wasn't afraid to question things. It's not all Orthodox people who are homophobic of course. I know a lot of Orthodox Jews who are fine and completely support lesbian and gay people.
Coming out to people is a gradual process. I came out to friends first; my friends were really fine. One friend did find it uncomfortable at first but it didn't take her very long at all to realise that I hadn't changed, I was still the same person as I had been before I told her. One or two people said some hurtful things. But actually I had a harder time because I liked to put my hand up in class to answer questions and to speak my mind!
At 16, I joined the Reform Synagogue Youth. That's why I am still Jewish today in my identity. Reform Judaism has a much greater view of equality. Everyone is of equal worth. There are men and women rabbis, everyone sits together whereas in the synagogue. They even have gay rabbis. They have interpreted the Torah in a way that isn't homophobic. At last I had found somewhere where I could be exactly who I wanted to be.
A few years later I met my first gay rabbi. It was incredible sitting down with someone who has dedicated their life to Judaism but is a gay man and is completely okay with putting their Judaism and sexuality together.
When I was 17 I came out to my parents. My dad is pretty old and I didn’t know how he would react. And I was concerned how my mum would react being Orthodox. But both have been fine with it, amazingly so. My mum's attitude is she loves me so much, why would she suddenly not support her daughter or not feel the same way about her? My dad found it hard – sometimes it takes longer for people to get used to it.
After school I went to uni. I have kept my Jewish identity though I don’t keep the religious rules so much. My Judaism is so important to me; it's not just about faith there’s a culture and history behind it. Most of my dad's family died in the Holocaust and that gives me a sense of identity. I have since worked with a really great LGB charity which is an important expression of that part of me.
I think I have gained so much by bringing together my faith and my sexuality. I think if I hadn’t done this I would have lost a very important part of myself. It was definitely a struggle to bring the two together. You are given your religion, you are born with it and it's up to you how you continue with that. Sexuality you discover in time even though you were born with it.
Now I believe in a God who supports love, who supports people expressing who they really are; and as long as you're not being harmful to yourself and others then what harm can that do?
I know a lot of people who have rejected their faith and I know a lot of people who have rejected their sexuality to keep their faith. And I see a lot of self-hatred and misery in those people. They can't love themselves.
In my eyes I am a proud Jewish gay woman. I've done well at school and at uni and I'm very happy with my life, and my parents are very happy with my life, and I've got a lot of friends. So tell me what I'm doing wrong?!
If you don't believe it's okay to be gay and religious it's not your place to put hatred on other people…. Because that's not what religion is about. Everyone is different whatever your difference is: religion, sexuality, race... all these things make you who you are. Difference is what makes you, you.