Union for Reform Judaism adopts historic transgender rights policy

The Union for Reform Judaism in North America has adopted a resolution for transgender rights. This move continues a long tradition of supporting minority rights. In 1977, both the Union and the Central Conference of American Rabbis passed resolutions affirming “the rights of homosexuals”.

As Trans Media Watch note: “[Trans] is an umbrella term, describing people who experience the need to present themselves as and/or who identify as other than the gender they were assigned at birth“.

The resolution also supports the rights of individuals who define their gender outside of societal expectations and norms.

According to the Office for Justice Progams (OJP), one in two transgender individuals are sexually abused or assaulted in their lifetimes. A high number of trans individuals are survivors of sexual abuse. Many live with these traumas and the fear of repeat victimisation. People of colour in LGBTQ communities also face disproportionate levels of violence.

In 2014, The New York City Anti-Violence Project (NCAVP) recorded 12 transgender murders. All victims were people of colour. These communities experience higher rates of homelessness, poverty, and job discrimination. This increases their risk of violence.

The NCAVP also found that “LGBTQ and HIV-affected people of color, LGBTQ youth and young adults, transgender people, transgender women, transgender people of color, and low income survivors experience more severe and deadly forms of violence while simultaneously having less access to anti-violence services and support”.

Nuances exist between communities. For example, gay men experienced more physical violence as women faced more sexual violence.

A recent NCAVP report found that undocumented transgender survivors were 3.83 times more likely to face discrimination from partners.

In 2015, the murders of 15 trans individuals became a historic and unwelcome high in the United States.

Catherine Bell, from the grassroots LGBT Jewish group Keshet, told the Tablet Magazine that: “the trans resolution is a really important step forward, and it will help to set a standard that I hope other communities will see as an open and welcome step to come and join.”

Keshet works with the Reform Movement to educate Jewish communities on these issues.

The resolution also affirms the individual right to be referred to by their name, gender, and pronoun of preference in Reform congregations, schools and other affiliated organisations.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, have adopted inclusive transgender policies, but none as far reaching as the Union of Reform Judaism. And the resolution calls on governments in the U.S. and Canada to review its laws to ensure full equality.

Reform Judaism boasts 1.5 million adherents in almost 900 congregations across the United States and Canada. It remains the most liberal wing. Orthodox Judaism is the most conservative wing, and the Masorti sit somewhere in the between.

Reform Judaism’s push for equality comes from the biblical tradition of b’tselem Elohim—in the Divine image. The resolution quoted Genesis 1:27, “And God created humans in God’s image, in the image of God, God created them.”