In her June 2017 blog post, Justice for All: Respecting Identity and Protecting Dignity, Lea Andersen reflects on a personal experience that shaped her beliefs and behavior as a trans woman for years.
One of my earliest memories of queerness happened at home, watching TV with my mom. There was a special about a transgender woman, and I was intrigued. My mom, however, was somewhat disturbed by the program, and hissed the word “disgusting” at the screen, along with a couple of choice slurs. I asked her why she was saying this, and she said that it was because being transgender was “unnatural.”
She goes on to describe how the Parashat Chukat presents what is “natural” and adds,
This tension around what is “natural” has had terrifying consequences for transgender people. Some people in power believe gender is inherently tied to configurations of sex organs, and as a result have tried to force transgender students in public schools to use bathrooms that conflict with the gender identity that is “natural” to them. The consequences of this daily humiliation can lead to severe depression and anxiety, contributing to the alarmingly high rate of transgender suicides.
Each of us, as members of the Jewish people, is obligated to pursue justice. That pursuit can take many forms – fighting mass incarceration and the death penalty; fighting for a level playing field for all, regardless of race or gender; advocating for civilians trapped in international conflicts; and more. Consistent in each of these actions is a profound recognition of human dignity. Those things that are just and worth pursuing are always about allowing someone to live a full and happy life.
Lea shares the work of Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism that is spearheading a campaign to fight for basic rights and protections for transgender kids in schools. She shares how this work is critical for human dignity.
I, and so many other trans folks like me, have known what we are from the beginning. Our lives have been made easier by those who have not only accepted us, but loved and affirmed us in our identities. I would never have made it to where I am today without the love and support of people in my life who have seen me for what I am and affirmed my dignity. In this campaign, the Reform Jewish community offers that same affirmation and support to trans students. We must redouble our efforts toward justice to ensure that every person’s identity and dignity are respected and protected. Together, we can mobilize to be a positive force for change in the lives of students.
To read Lea’s blog post, Justice for All: Respecting Identity and Protecting Dignity, in its entirety, visit ReformJudaism.org. Lea is a Tzedek Social Justice Fellow alumni who worked at the Asheville Jewish Community Center in Asheville, NC in the 2016-2017 cohort. She is currently in rabbinical school at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.