When I started working at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism almost a year ago, I was impressed with the level of LGBTQ awareness and sensitivity I experienced in the office. As the new owner of the RAC’s LGBTQ portfolio, my co-workers encouraged me to write pieces about the intersection of Jewish and queer identity, to apprise our LGTBTQ youth programming with the most updated language, and to explore how the Reform Movement can be most impactful in the broader fight for LGBTQ equality. I was ecstatic to be working with an organization that is so clear in its understanding of inclusion and progress. But I quickly began to realize that understanding is only half the battle. Progress is achieved on a continual basis, and to create truly inclusive spaces for LGBTQ people, organizations must do more than understand the issues — they must also be open to continual learning and re-evaluation of their practices.
In 2015, the URJ and CCAR passed a resolution on the Rights of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People, expressing support for this community’s right to dignity and equal protection under the law. During my time at the Religious Action Center, we have worked hard to put this resolution into practice, both within our own organizational structure and the greater Reform Movement.
We have worked with the URJ Audacious Hospitality department and our partners at Keshet to update our website and resources to the most up-to-date and inclusive language around LGBTQ equality, and will continue this process as language and inclusion practices continue to change.
For years, we have encouraged teens at our L’Taken seminars, a four-day Jewish social justice conference, to include their preferred gender pronouns on their nametags, ensuring that we are not inadvertently misgendering anyone and working to create a culture in which not assuming one’s pronouns is normalized. This year, we brought that concept to our Movement’s leaders at the Consultation on Conscience, challenging them to join us in making inclusion of transgender and gender non-conforming people a priority in all areas of our work. We also began including preferred gender pronouns in our introductory activities at the RAC office, creating a space in which a normal introduction sounds something like, “Hi, I’m Max and I use he, him, his pronouns.”
White, cis, gay men are disproportionately represented in LGBTQ related media, and often occupy the only positions of political or community leadership held by LGBTQ people. This year, in preparation for Pride Month, we organized a guest blog series to lift up the voices of those who champion diverse LGBTQ identities, using our organization’s platform to share stories about LGBTQ Jews from many different walks of life.
We are currently working with our building contractors to remove gendered signage from our office’s single stall bathrooms, and making gender neutral facilities at our L’Taken seminars and other conferences a reality.
In the Reform Movement, we often use the phrase, “b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God,” to guide our faith-based advocacy. It reminds us that every living person is created in the image of god and should be treated with both dignity and respect. If we are truly committed to this sacred message, then we cannot rely solely upon the passing of resolutions. Understanding the concept of inclusion and working to make it a reality are not the same thing, and that is why our commitment to LGBTQ inclusion, in policy and in our own communities, must go beyond our words. It is essential that we continue learning from and working in coalition with those who champion these identities to ensure that we are doing everything we can to create an inclusive community, society and world.
For me, the strength of an organization cannot be measured by the successes of its past, but rather by its dedication to the future. In putting the URJ’s resolution into practice, I have worked with every department at the RAC, brainstorming ideas and working through challenges in a collaborative fashion. I have seen the desire for learning and a genuine openness to change, and that has allowed me to take a very LGBTQ friendly office and work to make it a more inclusive one.