The Rights of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Individuals

The Rights of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Individuals

Submitted to the Central Conference of American Rabbis

By the Rabbinic Members of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism

March 16, 2015


Throughout the Reform Movement’s history, we have worked tirelessly to fight discrimination, support equality, and strengthen the rights of minorities and women. Since 1977, when both the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis passed resolutions affirming “the rights of homosexuals,” we have welcomed and celebrated people of all sexual orientations in our congregations, and opposed laws that fail to uphold principles of equality for all.


While progress has been made in bringing greater equality and acceptance of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in North American society, too often transgender and gender non-conforming individuals are forced to live as second-class citizens.  Transgender is a “term for people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth.” “Gender non-conforming” is “a term for individuals whose gender expression is different from societal expectations related to gender.”


Although much work remains to be done to fully overcome discrimination against lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals, members of the transgender and gender non-conforming communities face particular ongoing bigotry. Transgender individuals are often unable to easily update their federal and state documents—such as passports and birth certificates—to reflect their correct gender and name. As a result, transgender individuals can be denied the right to vote because their documents do not match their gender. Additionally, they are frequent victims of hate crimes and harassment and often face discrimination in employment, healthcare, and housing. Simply accessing the appropriate restroom without facing others’ objections or fearing violence can be a challenge to transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. The combined impact of all of these factors has contributed to extremely high rates of poverty, homelessness, and suicide rates among transgender individuals.

Efforts within the Reform Movement over the past decade reflect our commitment to greater inclusivity for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. In 2003, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion admitted its first openly transgender rabbinical student, who was admitted to the Central Conference of American Rabbis upon ordination.  However, the non-discrimination statement of the Rabbinical Placement Commission does not yet require that congregations and other organizations seeking a rabbi commit to avoiding discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

Recently, both NFTY and URJ camps have taken steps to become more inclusive of transgender participants in their programs, facilities, application forms, and materials.

Several Reform responsa highlight the imperative toward full inclusion of transgender people in accordance with Jewish tradition.  A 1978 responsum affirmed that a rabbi may officiate at the wedding of two Jews if one partner has transitioned to the gender with which they identify, as opposed to the one they were assigned at birth (“Marriage After a Sex-change Operation” in American Reform Responsa, Vol. LXXXVIII, 1978, pp. 52-54).   A 1990 responsum (CCAR 5750.8) affirmed that being transgender alone is not a basis to deny someone conversion to Judaism.  In its 2009 responsum on “Circumcision of a Transgender Female” (CCAR 5769.6), the Responsa Committee held that “like the Rabbis, we, too, are obligated to find a place within our midst for … the Jew who does not seem to fit within the established boundaries and social categories upon which our communities are normally based.  … We have no need as a community … to question any person’s expressed gender identity. … Our concern, quite simply, is to welcome [each person] into the midst of the community of Israel.”

These responsa reflect biblical tradition that teaches us that all human beings are created b’tzelem Elohim- in the Divine image. As it says in Genesis 1:27, “And God created humans in God’s image, in the image of God, God created them.” From this bedrock principle stems our commitment to defend any individual from the discrimination that arises from ignorance, fear, insensitivity, or hatred. Knowing that members of the transgender and gender non-conforming communities are often singled out for discrimination, high rates of violence, and even murder, we are reminded of the Torah’s injunction, “do not stand idly while your neighbor bleeds” (Leviticus 19:16).


THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Central Conference of American Rabbis:


1.         Affirms its commitment to the full equality, inclusion and acceptance of people of all gender identities and gender expressions;


2.         Affirms the right of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals to be referred to by the name, gender, and pronoun of preference in our congregations, camps, and schools regardless of physical presentation.


3.         Encourages Reform congregations, congregants, clergy, camps, institutions, and affiliates, including NFTY, to begin or continue to advocate for the rights of people of all gender identities and gender expressions;


4.         Urges the adoption of legislation and policies that prevent discrimination based on gender identity and expression and that require individuals to be treated under the law as the gender by which they identify. This includes establishing the right to change without undue burden identification documents to reflect one’s gender and name, and equal access to medical, legal, and social services for people of all gender identities and expressions;


5.         Condemns violence against transgender and gender non-conforming individuals and numerous other deaths due to denial of medical care.


6.         Calls on the U.S. and Canadian governments at all levels to review and revise all laws and policies, such as the U.S. ban on transgender individuals serving in the military, to ensure full equality and protections for people of all gender identities and expressions;


7.         Commits to working with other Reform Movement institutions to begin or continue to work with local and national Jewish transgender, lesbian, gay, and bisexual organizations, to create inclusive welcoming communities for people of all gender identities and expressions, and to spread awareness and increase knowledge of issues related to gender identity and expression.  This  work may include cultural competency trainings for religious school staff, adult education programs on gender identity and expression, and sermons on the topic of gender identity and gender expression;


8.         Applauds HUC-JIR for having accepted and ordained the first openly transgender rabbis.


9.         Calls upon the Rabbinical Placement Commission to update its non-discrimination policy to include gender identity.


10.       Commits to working with our congregations and other Reform Movement institutions, facilities, and events to ensure, to the extent feasible, the availability of gender-neutral restrooms and other physical site needs that ensure dignity and safety for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals as they arise, such as a safe place to change clothes for an event and an appropriate bunkroom at camp for a gender independent child


11.       Commits to reviewing its use of language in both policy and prayer in an effort to ensure people of all gender identities and gender expressions are welcomed, included, accepted, and respected. This includes developing statements of inclusion and/or non-discrimination policies pertaining to gender identity and gender expression and, when feasible, the use of gender-neutral language; and commits to reviewing all forms and intake documents.  Whenever possible, more than two gender options should be offered, there should be flexibility in how gender is completed on forms, or gender should not need to be declared at all;


12.       Affirms the right of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals to receive competent and dignified pastoral and community care when facing universal times of illness, grief, and coming to the end of life.


13.       Works   in collaboration with other Reform entities to create ritual, programmatic, and educational materials that will empower Reform institutions to be more inclusive and welcoming of people of all gender identities and expressions.


Additional Resources:

Trans-Inclusive CCAR Liturgy

Trans-inclusive Blessing for Those Called to Torah

Gender Affirmation Naming Ceremony

Wedding Language for a Couple Who Would Like to Indicate Complex Genders

Mishkan Ga’avah: Where Pride Dwells – A groundbreaking collection of LGBTQ prayers, poems, liturgy, and rituals.