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Looking Back and Moving Forward in Honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance

Looking Back and Moving Forward in Honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance

This week marks Transgender Awareness Week, leading up to Transgender Day of Remembrance on Friday, November 20. This day was originally started by transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith as a vigil to honor the memory of Rita Hester. Rita was a highly visible member of the transgender community in Boston, as she was a local advocate and an educator on transgender issues. In November 1998, Rita was stabbed 20 times in her apartment and passed away moments after being admitted to the hospital. Today, Transgender Day of Remembrance is meant to memorialize lives lost due to anti-transgender acts of violence and prejudice.

Transgender Awareness Week this year is particularly meaningful for me as a Reform Jew because two weeks ago, I stood among 5,000 Reform Jews at the Union for Reform Judaism Biennial in Orlando, FL as we officially – and unanimously – adopted a new resolution on the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming people, to a standing ovation. The passage of the resolution is a reflection of our Movement’s unwavering commitment to full equality and inclusion for the LGBT community in our synagogues, in Jewish life, and in broader society and further formalizes our long-standing and deeply-held value that all people are deserving of dignity and respect. Our tradition teaches that every person is created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of the Divine. We are all God’s children who each have special and unique gifts to share with each other and the world. We, as Reform Jews, would be remiss to not welcome and celebrate all of these gifts and talents.

Our Reform Jewish Movement, our institutions and our congregations, have begun to take steps to carry out the words of our resolution and will continue to do so. Recently, we created a resource for congregations to use as they begin their work on congregational transgender inclusion. Moving forward, in the coming months, we will be producing a more in depth guide to assist our movement in this important work. 

Especially as we mark Transgender Awareness Week, we need to remember that we are far too familiar with the terrible discrimination and violence faced by transgender people in our country today. This discrimination is in part a result of a lack of critical legal protections. Just as our laws protect other marginalized groups of people, we must ensure that LGBT people are afforded explicit protections against discrimination.

The Equality Act (H.R. 3185/S.1858), introduced by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Representative David Cicilline (D-RI), would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in key areas of law such as employment, housing and public accommodations. This is the most comprehensive civil rights legislation for LGBT individuals, and would ensure that LBGT people are no discriminated against for simply being who they are. Take action today and urge your Member of Congress to support the Equality Act.

To learn more about our work regarding transgender issues, visit our issue page. You can also learn more about the work being done in the wider Jewish community with Keshet. Visit this website to learn more about Transgender Day of Remembrance.  

Tracy Wolf was a 2015-2016 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (the RAC), and currently serves as the RAC's Leadership Development Associate. Originally from Syosset, N.Y., she is a member of North Shore Synagogue and a graduate of Dickinson College.

Tracy Wolf

Published: 11/20/2015