Central Conference of American Rabbis Resolution on Advocating for Transgender People

February 20, 2023

Jewish tradition acknowledges and honors gender diversity as inherent in Creation. The very first human being was created as a singular individual in order to emphasize the equality, uniqueness, and infinite value of each and every human being (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5). This same first human being themself represents gender diversity, for Rabbi Jeremiah taught that this earth-creature was an androgynos, a person whose gender exceeds the binary definitions “male or female” (B’reishit Rabbah 8:1). It is our holy obligation to nurture and nourish each sacred human being, in all our diverse expressions and experiences of gender.

In keeping with the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ ongoing work to safeguard the rights of every person, the CCAR adopted a resolution on the Rights of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Individuals in 2015.[1] As transgender, nonbinary, and gender diverse people in North America face increasingly legislated hostility and discrimination that threaten their/our lives, rights, mental and physical health, dignity, and existence, a renewed commitment is needed to educate and advocate in opposition to these dangerous measures, as we create and sustain communities in which gender diversity can thrive.

In 2022 alone, more than three hundred anti-transgender bills were introduced, passed, or debated in US state legislatures.[2] Using a strategy employed by homophobic activists since the 1970s, these harmful bills claim, in rhetoric, to “protect children.” In practice, they harm trans, nonbinary, and gender diverse folks of all ages and stages. They have a disproportionate and potentially catastrophic effect on trans children and adolescents.

These laws target transgender people in various aspects of life. For example, at least eighteen states[3] have adopted measures banning trans individuals from playing sports in accordance with their gender identity. Four states have enacted terrifying restrictions on gender-affirming care for trans people, criminalizing parents who help their children access lifesaving and dignity-affirming treatment. Some proposed policies threaten to force school staff members to “out” a young person to hostile, anti-trans parents. LGBTQ+ rights advocates decry these bills as forms of “government-mandated conversion therapy—forcing youth to live as their assigned sex and deny their trans identity.”[4]

Anti-trans legislation represents an existential threat to the health, lives, dignity, and well-being of transgender, nonbinary, and gender diverse people, including Reform rabbis and all of the communities we serve. This legislation contradicts the well-documented and well-researched current best practices of virtually every North American and international professional medical and mental health organization that works with LGBTQ+ individuals, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Family Practice, and the Endocrine Society.[5]

These attacks threaten the most vulnerable among us and challenge our Reform Jewish values. Their consequences are alarming—including the appalling murder rates of transgender people and the high rates of suicidal ideation and suicide among trans youth.[6] By contrast, we know that an affirmative, proactive encouragement of gender diversity can make a positive difference. A 2016 study from the University of Washington and published in Pediatrics promisingly found that gender nonconforming children aged three to twelve who were raised in socially affirming families showed lower rates of depression and anxiety, with rates trending toward those of their gender-conforming peers.[7] Furthermore, a 2023 multicenter study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that transgender and nonbinary youth ages twelve to twenty who received gender affirming hormone therapy experienced increased positive affect and life experiences and decreased depression and anxiety.[8]

With the gender-diversity-affirming texts of our tradition and the CCAR’s longtime commitment to the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people, Reform Rabbis must be among those voices.

Therefore, the Central Conference of American Rabbis resolves to take the following steps and encourages CCAR members and the communities we serve to:

  1. Renew advocacy for the adoption of the Equality Act at the US federal level, which would make both sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes;
  2. Oppose[9] proposed and enacted discriminatory legislation and local policies that threaten the health, safety, and lives of transgender, nonbinary, and gender diverse people and that criminalize gender-affirming educational practices and medical care;
  3. Lead in protecting transgender, nonbinary, and gender diverse people—especially youth—from harm by teaching, preaching, and speaking about gender diversity in Jewish tradition and threats to that diversity in public policy;
  4. Follow the most up-to-date best practices of the CCAR with regard to gender-inclusive language in prayer, lifecycle ritual,[10] communal membership, and other areas of Jewish life;
  5. Educate community leaders about the binary and gendered nature of the Hebrew language and of many of our sacred texts, and learn about the emerging field[11] of gender inclusion in Hebrew;
  6. Work with our partners at the Union of Reform Judaism, Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion, congregations, and all other places where CCAR rabbis serve to ensure broad access to gender-affirming facilities, including restrooms, camp bunks, and signage; and
  7. Model the regular inclusion of gender diversity in Jewish community and invite the sharing of pronouns—especially by cisgender leaders—without requiring others to do so. We understand that visibility and being “out” must not be imposed upon those who are vulnerable but available as an opportunity.

[1] See our previous resolution at https://www.ccarnet.org/ccar-resolutions/rights-transgender-and-gender-non-conforming-indiv/.

[2] The Human Rights Campaign reported these statistics in a year in which the state legislature of Texas was not in session; therefore advocacy organizations like the Religious Action Center predict more such bills to be introduced during this year’s legislative session. See also 2023 predictions from the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Campaign, and Transathlete.

[3] A pernicious aspect of these policies and measures is their passage by extra-legislative measures, such as gubernatorial action or school board and other local policies.

[4] Chase Strangio and Raquel Willis, “Visibility Alone Will Not Keep Transgender Youth Safe” (The Nation, March 20, 2021).

[5] For example, a 2021 statement by AAP President Dr. Lee Savio Beers warns that half of transgender youth consider suicide, and one third actually attempt it, continuing, “The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that youth who identify as transgender have access to comprehensive, gender-affirming, and developmentally appropriate health care that is provided in a safe and inclusive clinical space. We also recommend that playing on sports teams helps youth develop self-esteem, correlates positively with overall mental health, and appears to have a protective effect against suicide.” (press release, “American Academy of Pediatrics Speaks Out Against Bills Harming Transgender Youth,” March 16, 2021).

[6] The Human Rights Campaign named 2021 the “deadliest year” for the violent murders of transgender and other gender nonconforming people, and they linked the increase in such murders to the increasing number of anti-trans bills in state legislatures (press release, “2021 Becomes Deadliest Year on Record for Transgender and Non-Binary People,” September 9, 2021). The American Medical Association called violence against those whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth to be an “epidemic,” and the anti-gun violence group Everytown noted that transgender people are more than 2.5 times more likely than cisgender people to experience violence (C. Mandler, “Murders of trans people nearly doubled over past four years, and Black trans women are most at risk, report finds,” CBS News, October 13, 2022).

[7] Deborah Bach, “Transgender Children Supported in Their Identities Show Positive Mental Health” (Washington University press release, February 26, 2016).

[8] Chen et al., Psychosocial Functioning in Transgender Youth after Two Years of Hormones, NEJM, 2023; 388:240–250.

[9] Our partners at the Religious Action Center have helpful resources on this urgent issue in their “Urgency of Now” campaign at https://rac.org/issues/lgbtq-equality/urgency-now-transgender-rights-campaign.

[10] For example, we urge our colleagues to study the soon-to-be-released guidelines on inclusive language and approaches to bet mitzvah, a gender-inclusive term for Jewish coming-of-age rituals and preparation programs. For individual ceremonies and children, the CCAR continues to endorse the use of whatever term is most meaningful to the child or person undergoing this ritual (e.g. bar mitzvah, bat mitzvah, bet mitzvah, b’rit mitzvah, b. mitzvah, etc.).

[11] The Non-Binary Hebrew Project (www.nonbinaryhebrew.org) provides practical guides for applying new language in Jewish communal life.