The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of attending the Center for American Progress’ event, “We The People: Why Congress Must Pass a Comprehensive LGBT Non-Discrimination Act,” where Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the lead sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the Senate, announced his intention to introduce comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination legislation. While the speakers at the event were captivating, the part of the event that stood out to me the most was during the question and answer section when Diego Sanchez, Director of Policy at PFLAG National, spoke about the importance of trans-inclusive advocacy.
Diego commented that while a lot of the advocacy for marriage equality boils down to the idea that LGB individuals are “just like you;” but, as the LGBT movement begins to advocate for this new comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination legislation, we need to admit that trans people are different. Issues facing the trans community require more explanation and a “ten second trans example” in our advocacy efforts is not sufficient.
The fact of the matter is trans people are not the same as cisgender people, just as LGB people—if we are being honest—are not truly the same as straight people. We have different lived experiences than our straight and/or cisgender counterparts and face a variety of forms of legal and social discrimination—discrimination that is augmented when LGBT individuals belong to other marginalized communities, such as racial and ethnic minorities. When we as Reform Jews root our LGBT equality in the idea that we are all created “b’tzelem Elohim,” in the Divine image (Genesis 1:27), we are not saying that we are all just alike; rather we are saying that we are all human beings and we are therefore all deserving of equal treatment, though our identities and lived experiences may be different.
This is especially true for trans individuals who face disturbingly high rates of harassment, discrimination, poverty, and suicide. There are many needs and forms of discrimination that are unique to the trans community which the LGB community does not face; it is easy to automatically use the acronym LGBT (or LGBTQ, LGBTQQIA, etc.) when you are really only talking about LGB issues (and sometimes even only “G” issues). Furthermore, although many Americans are familiar with the concept of sexual orientation, many still do not fully grasp the concept of gender identity and the challenges the trans community faces, creating further obstacles to trans equality.
As we enter a new year of advocating on behalf of the Reform Movement at the RAC, these thoughts serve as a reminder that we need to constantly challenge ourselves to ensure that our advocacy is truly trans-inclusive. We need to make certain that our advocacy includes sharing educational resources about what it means to be trans, illustrating the rampant discrimination that trans individuals face and talking about the need to not just protect LGB individuals but trans people as well. We need to continue educating ourselves on what it means to be an ally, through resources such as PFLAG’s “guide to being a trans ally,” and ensure that we are incorporating trans issues and narratives into all of our LGBT advocacy work. We need to remember that trans individuals are not just like—and that that’s something to celebrate, not erase. As Diego said earlier this month: “The truth is when we walk in the door as trans people, we’re going to need you to buck up and step up and get past that “we’re just like you;” we can accomplish the same things but we need to be treated fairly.”
As the New Year begins, let’s resolve to continuously challenge ourselves and ensure that all of our advocacy work is truly trans inclusive so we can establish a society where all people, regardless of gender identity, are treated fairly and equally.