By Issac Young
With Tu BiShvat on the horizon, I look out my window and see my home, Chicago, wrapped in a snowy blanket. While the green growth of springtime seems so far away, I saw an entirely different kind of growth this weekend when I joined the Emtza USY (United Synagogue Youth) Winter Shab with Congregation B’nai Amoona in St. Louis.
Together with USY and B’nai Amoona youth leaders, we planned and led an hour of conversation about LGBTQ+ identities. What struck me was how different this conversation was from the ones I had as a transgender teenager growing up in the Midwest. I had people around me who were deeply caring, but I was never able to be seen as my full self. I was either viewed as only queer or only Jewish, but not who I am: both queer and Jewish. At B’nai Amoona, and during the USY convention, LGBTQ+ identities were not only recognized but fully embraced. I was never welcomed into such spaces as a teen.
As I reflect on the anti-LBGTQ+ legislation currently being introduced in the Missouri General Assembly, I can’t help but think about Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act that was passed when I was a teenager in 2015. Learning that those in power in my home state, even my own neighbors, felt hostile towards me was one of the most isolating experiences of my life. And yet, at a time when I am seeing more and more anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, I am also reminded of communities who have put in the work to create spaces of belonging. I’m thankful for organizations like PROMO, Central Reform Congregation, the Jewish Community Relations Council, and more who gathered at the Capitol building in Jefferson City over the last few weeks to share testimony to combat the onslaught of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation proposed this session.
As advocates and allies, we are tasked with creating the world we want through dedication and continuous action. Our growth depends on forging conversation and nurturing our connections. Thank you so much to the St. Louis community for welcoming and embracing me.