Friday, April 2, 2021/20 Nisan, 5781
Parashat Yom Sh’vi-i shel Pesah Exodus 14:30–15:21
Transgender Day of Visibility took place on Wednesday, in the middle of the holiday of Passover. It occurred amidst a flurry of anti-transgender legislation moving through state legislatures, banning transgender children from receiving the life-affirming health care they need or participating in sports. Despite the risks involved during a Pandemic, my colleagues and friends Maharat Rori Picker Neiss and Rabbi Daniel Bogard entered an overcrowded Missouri State Capitol in response to two state bills, making it a felony to give gender-affirming treatments to children.
As Maharat Picker Neiss explained, “The heroes in the room were the trans youth who showed up to testify and the fierce parents fighting on behalf of their children… with passion and with a bold vulnerability…. Teenagers spoke of their own suicide attempts and self-harm before they felt comfortable in their own bodies.” Their pain is real. In 2020, one-third of LGBTQ+ Americans—including 60% of transgender Americans reported facing discrimination. According to the Human Rights Campaign’s records, at least 44 transgender and gender non-conforming people were killed this past year alone.
Gender identity is not binary. Jewish texts dating back centuries spoke of at least six different gender identities—a number has grown as our understanding of gender has matured. You can read more about Terms for Gender Diversity in Classical Jewish Texts by Rabbi Elliot Kukla, or viewing my Sefaria sheet from a recent Torah study.
The Torah tells us that everyone was created B’tzelem Elohim, in God’s image. Why then should anyone be discriminated against because of their God-given gender identity? Recognizing this, the Union of Reform Judaism and Central Conference of American Rabbis passed resolutions in 2015, which affirm transgender and gender non-conforming people’s rights. I invite you to read them as you consider what you can do to advocate for people of all gender identities and sexualities.
Too often, transgender and gender-expansive individuals are treated with contempt, hatred, or fear. During Passover, we understand that it is our duty to stand up to such bigotry and do our part to create a world where everyone can live their lives in freedom and respect. Transgender teen Stall Keating recently said, “Every young person, every person, regardless of who they are or who they love, should be able to be excited about their future.”
Let us all do our part to realize that dream.
Rabbi Cassi Kail