Making Your Jewish Community Trans-Friendly (Rabbi Elliot Kukla and Reuben Zellman)
What Does “Transgender” Mean?
“Transgender” and “trans” are broad terms. They can include anyone who knows themselves to be a gender that is different than the gender they were assigned at birth. For example, a person may have been raised as a boy, but now see herself as completely female.
Other trans people may have an alternate gender identity that is neither male nor female, and for some people their gender identity may vary at different points in their lives. Some transgender people modify their bodies through medical means, and some do not.
What’s at Stake?
Transphobia, the fear of gender variance in society, impacts all parts of life. Children who do not conform to conventional gender expectations often experience physical, verbal, and sexual abuse at home and at school. As a result, transgender youth are much more likely to drop out of school, be disowned by their families, or commit suicide. Transgender adults face discrimination in employment, healthcare, and social services.
Unfortunately, the Jewish community is equally impacted by transphobia. As a result, many trans and gender-nonconforming individuals feel unwelcome in synagogues and other Jewish institutions, and cannot access spiritual care, social support, and Jewish community life.
How to Make Your Jewish Community More Trans-Friendly
Synagogues and other Jewish organizations are making changes and developing programming to educate members about transgender issues. The following are some examples of steps institutions have taken to become more inclusive and welcoming. As you implement changes, make sure to work with and support the leadership of transgender people themselves whenever possible.
Create a non-gender-specific restroom that is available to everyone. If you already have a single-stall restroom in your building, this can be easily accomplished by covering the “Men “or “Women” sign with an “All-Gender Restroom” sign. This applies to temporary, shared or rental facilities also.
In buildings where a single-stall restroom does not already exist, it may be more complicated to create restroom options that will make all members of your community feel comfortable.
However, doing this work sends a very important message about the accessibility of your community. Many transgender people decide where they will go based upon whether there is a trans-friendly restroom or not.
Let people know that you are trans-inclusive by using welcoming language. This is very important. In newsletters, event announcements, sermons etc., instead of saying “this event welcomes men and women,” try “all genders welcome”; rather than talking about “both men and women,” try “people of all genders.” Saying that your community welcomes “everyone” is not enough. Research shows that transgender, as well as gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, often assume that the word “everyone” does not include them.
Create an outreach plan that includes the changes your community is making. Remember that the world at large is not very welcoming to transgender people. Therefore, trans people often assume that they are not welcome or included in your community, unless it is stated otherwise. Publicize the trans-inclusive steps that your community has taken, as well as the programs that you are planning. This lets trans people know that your community cares about being an affirming place for them.
Include “gender identity” and “gender expression” in your organization’s non-discrimination and anti-harassment policy.
POLITICAL AND SOCIAL ACTION
Include transgender and gender diversity issues as part of your community’s social action work. Support transgender community services and advocacy organizations.