Resolution that affirms equality of transgender people represents the most far-reaching move on transgender rights of any major religious organisation
The body that represents synagogues in the Reform Jewish movement – Judaism’s largest US branch – is poised to pass the most far-reaching resolution on transgender rights of any major religious organisation.
The resolution under consideration on Thursday at the movement’s biennial conference in Orlando, Florida, calls for Reform Jewish congregations and camps to have gender-neutral bathrooms, encourages gender-neutral language, suggests training on gender issues for religious school staff and encourages advocating on behalf of the transgender community. It affirms the equality of transgender people and welcomes them into Reform Jewish institutions.
Other US religious bodies, such as the Episcopal church, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, previously approved resolutions affirming equality for transgender and gender non-conforming people.
None, however, go as far as the one offered by the Union for Reform Judaism, said Michael Toumayan, manager of the religion and faith programme at the Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights group for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.
While the resolution is coming in a year when transgender issues have never been more visible, thanks to Caitlyn Jenner and others, URJ officials say it has been in the works for some time and is part of a tradition of inclusion that dates back decades. The organisation passed a resolution affirming the rights of gays and lesbians in 1977.
“Within our congregations, this is a natural evolution rather than some wholesale departure or new direction,” said Barbara Weinstein, director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism. “This is very much of a piece of what it means to be a Reform Jew.”
The URJ is offering a one-page pamphlet to help congregations adopt the goals of the resolution. It suggests dividing children by birth month rather than gender in youth programming, avoiding using gendered honorifics such as Mr or Mrs on name tags or in emails, and asking congregants by which pronouns they would prefer to be called.
“Of course the resolution doesn’t require anything, but for a community that takes it seriously and is willing to really invest a strong effort and resources toward implementation, then I think it could make a difference,” said Rabbi Reuben Zellman, who became the first out transgender rabbinic student in the Reform movement a dozen years ago.
“But like any resolution, it won’t be impactful unless it’s backed up with serious efforts of implementation.”
More than 6 million Jews live in the US – less than 2% of the country’s population – and more than a third of US Jews identify with the Reform movement, according to a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center.
Less than a fifth of US Jews identify with Conservative Judaism – sort of a middle ground ideologically between the more liberal Reform movement and traditional Orthodox Judaism. Orthodox Jews account for 10% of US Jews, and Reconstructionist and other smaller movements make up 6%.
Given Reform Judaism’s size, with 1.5 million members in North America, the effect of the resolution will be felt throughout American Judaism and beyond, experts said.
“It has a real impact throughout the entire Jewish community … This happening in the Reform movement has a bigger impact on the mainstream Jewish community, just in terms of sheer scope,” said Catherine Bell, national programme director for Keshet, a grassroots group that works for gay and transgender rights. “I hope this paves the way for other denominations to also make similar steps.”
Source: The Guardian