The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
Background on the issue:
Transgender and gender non-conforming individuals face discrimination in employment, housing, education, and other facets of daily life. Members of the transgender and gender non-conforming community are the subject of harassment and face high rates of issues related to mental health. The transgender and gender non-conforming community is diverse and is part of the larger LGBTQ community, and faces unique challenges.
“Transgender” is a term used to describe individuals whose gender identity or gender expression does not necessarily match the sex assigned to them at birth. “Gender non-conforming” is a term used to describe individuals whose gender identity or gender expression does not conform to societal expectations surrounding gender.
In 2015, the URJ adopted a resolution on the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, and the Religious Action Center released a Trans Inclusion Guide to help congregations better include transgender and gender non-conforming members and their families.
In May 2016, RAC Director Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner lauded the Obama administration’s decision to release guidelines that move toward full equality for trans students. The Reform Movement also joined a letter with 30 interfaith groups commending President Obama.
On February 22, 2017, the Trump administration rescinded 2016 federal guidelines instructing public schools to create inclusive environments for transgender and gender non-conforming students, including ensuring access to restrooms and other facilities based on each student’s gender identity. Reform Movement leaders from the RAC, Union for Reform Judaism and Central Conference of American Rabbis condemned the rollback of these key protections, calling it a “serious step backward in the effort to protect transgender youth—and, more broadly, in the march toward equal civil rights for all Americans.” Read the full statement here.
The policy landscape that affects transgender students today is shaped on three levels: school boards, state governments and the federal government. As such, protections for transgender and gender non-conforming students varies around the nation. Students in one school district may not have the same protections that students in another district have. Transgender and gender non-conforming students everywhere should experience equal protections under the law.
We are guided by the very basic belief that all human beings are created b’tzelem Elohim (in the Divine image), as it says in Genesis 1:27, "And God created humans in God’s own image, in the image of God, God created them; male and female God created them." Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said in an interview with Fox News, "As it says in Genesis, all humans were created in the image of God. And that means that every person, every soul, is a creature of God that looks like God, whether they are transgender or lesbian or gay, and so we welcome all of them."
We are taught that each person is created b’tzelem Elohim, in the Divine image. Our 2015 Resolution on the Rights of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People elaborates on this idea: “From this bedrock principle stems our commitment to defend any individual from the discrimination that arises from ignorance, fear, insensitivity, or hatred.” Transgender and gender non-conforming individuals are our siblings, our parents, our congregants, our friends, our neighbors and our leaders. It is their right to have a safe and successful education.
As part of the RAC’s efforts to respond to the Urgency of Now, we are calling on Reform Jews to join us in a sacred covenant to create the world we want. We are deeply engaged in a campaign to stand with transgender and gender non-conforming students to demand that welcoming and inclusive policies are in place in our schools. In coalition with local LGBTQ organizations, we are engaging in advocacy at the school district level and are looking to leaders all over the country to drive this effort.
In our campaign, we are asking congregations to team up, research the policies in their local school district that affect transgender and gender non-conforming students, and take action in response to their research.