By Marjorie Ingall
Last week, the Trump administration revoked the last two years of federal guidelines that provided transgender kids greater protection and safety in public schools. This week, the Jewish LGBTQ education and advocacy agency Keshet launched a new public service campaign: “Kavod Achshav (Dignity Now),” also known as “For the Sake of Dignity: A Campaign for Trans Youth,” urges Jewish organizations and individuals throughout America “to publicly support and protect transgender youth from harassment, bullying,discrimination, and violence.”
When the Trump camp announced (over the protests of the new Secretary of Education) that it was rolling back the Obama administration’s assurances that public school students could use bathrooms that aligned with their gender identity, it effectively shrugged that LGBT kids’ protection is a states’ rights issue. LGBT advocates insist that it’s a civil rights issue. Kavod Achshav’s statement reads: “We are living in a time of tremendous vulnerability for trans, non- binary, and gender non-conforming people, whose rights and basic human dignity are under attack. No one is more vulnerable to these threats than trans youth, who are still nine times more likely to attempt suicide than cisgender youth. We must ensure that trans youth are treated with respect and dignity; are safe from bullying, bigotry, and violence; and are fully embraced in our homes, classrooms, synagogues, and public spaces.”
The statement makes a promise to trans kids: “We pledge to make your Jewish community safe, affirming, and inclusive. We declare, today and every day: Trans Jews Belong Here.”
The pledge was signed by the Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, and Renewal movements of Judaism; the youth organizations BBYO, NFTY, USY; and Eshel, the Orthodox LGBTQ organization. Individual synagogues and organizations have also signed on.
On its website, Keshet offers Jewish groups and individuals educational resources, data on trans students and trans discrimination, personal stories, sample policies, and letters. Executive Director Idit Klein said in a statement: “When the highest office in the land sends the message to trans kids—‘you are not worthy of our protection’—every Jewish community leader needs to tell trans kids, ‘You are worthy. You are wanted. You will be safe in our community.’ At a time when discriminatory legislation is being promoted in the name of religious freedom, we must declare that we are called upon to treat all human beings with dignity and respect, not despite our Jewish tradition, but because of it.”
Alyx, a 15-year-old trans student at a Jewish Day School in New York State, applauded Keshet’s new campaign. She noted that the Trump Administration’s ruling doesn’t affect her own life all that much, but she worries for other kids.
“I couldn’t ask for two better parents,” she told Tablet in an interview. “As soon as I came out, they went to an event for parents—pretty much that same week. They didn’t know what to do, but they wanted to get it right. They supported me and helped me find resources. My mom drove me to New Jersey for an event with LGBTQ Jewish teens. My dad’s helpful with medical and legal stuff. My mom joined the board of Keshet!”
Her school, too, is supportive. “I wasn’t the first person to come out there,” she said. “They helped make my transition at school as easy as possible. The administration tries to create a great environment for all kids. We have a GSA [Gay-Straight Alliance]. But a lot of schools don’t know what to do.”
She went on, “A lot of people have been really hurt by this administration. After the election, there was a huge uptick in calls to suicide hotlines for LGBTQ kids. It’s really tough to hear something so hurtful from the president of the United States, particularly for kids who don’t have amazing supportive environments.”
I asked Alyx what—besides checking out Keshet’s resources—shuls and Hebrew Schools around the country can do to support trans kids in their communities. “Even in places where people are conservative, we should try to change hearts and minds,” she said. “I would tell them, ‘You’ve been in the bathroom with a transgender person before, I guarantee, and nothing happened to you!’ Trump has assaulted more women than transgender women in bathrooms have! If you see someone in the bathroom who looks a little different, they’re not there to spy. They’re there to pee. And if you want to protect people from sexual assault, there’s a lot you can do—sexual assault is a huge problem in some Orthodox communities, and not talking about it is also a huge problem. Fight to educate people about consent; don’t fight about banning a mythical menace from a bathroom.”
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