Keshet is a national organization that works for LGBTQ equality in Jewish life. The organization equips Jewish leaders with tools to build LGBTQ-affirming communities, creates spaces for queer Jewish teens to feel valued and develop their own leadership skills, and mobilizes the Jewish community to fight for LGBTQ justice. Keshet’s blog spotlights this work, as well as the voices of LGBTQ Jews, our families, and allies.
Last week we celebrated Passover. The Seders I attended called me to think about Mitzrayim, the narrow places where people are still oppressed.
I thought about the connection between Jewish history and oppression, from slavery in Egypt to today’s Jewish organizations who fight against inequality.
The LGBTQ community is familiar with oppression and the narrow places of the Mitzrayim. Yet, while there have been many broadened passages in movement for marriage equality and LGB rights, the channels for transgender and gender non-conforming folks are still the most narrow and constricted passageways in our community.
A recent study, “A Broken Bargain for Transgender Workers,” shows that more than four in 10 transgender people (44%) are underemployed. Unemployment rates for the transgender community are twice as high as the population as a whole—and for transgender people of color, the rate is four times as high. Additionally, transgender workers are nearly four times more likely than the population as a whole to have a household income of under $10,000. These disparities are mind boggling and yet they are real. Simply put, transgender and gender non-conforming people, in contrast to their straight and cisgender peers, experience higher rates of poverty.
I’ve seen these disparities in my own life as many of my transgender peers have found themselves stuck, with no chance of advancement, in the food service industry. I’m thinking specifically about one of my peers who, interview after interview, has been met with the phrase, “You aren’t quite what we are looking for.” Behind each rejection was an implied “Your gender presentation doesn’t look like what we were expecting.” And so my peer is stuck. He is underemployed and unable to leave the food service industry. He is having trouble making ends meet.
To step back to our Passover story, my friend, and other transgender folks, are working for corporations who act like Pharaoh. These big corporations make a generous profit and have the means to treat their workers fairly, yet they don’t. Instead, my peers, their workers, are unable to meet their basic needs. They struggle to afford essentials like food, rent, and transportation, let alone medications like hormones. Because more than four in every 10 transgender people are underemployed, the transgender community is disproportionately stuck in this reality—unable to advance, and unable to support themselves and their families.
I have seen dear friends of mine go weeks without opening bills because of the tremendous anxiety that comes with seeing yet another number you won’t be able to pay. This is what a living
looks like, oppressive, unfair, and exploited labor.
I know that the way to the Promised Land, a time in which all people can afford to meet their basic needs, is through the wilderness. That wilderness has looked like a journey from Egypt. It is now a rally for fair labor practices.
Across the nation this journey for liberation has begun, the Fight for $15 an hour and a union.
On April 14th and 15th, people across the nation will rally—joining hands, marching together. I will relive the Passover story as I march in Boston today. I march because I know that I cannot be free until we all are free.
I invite you to join hands, march together, and relive your history as we fight for freedom. You can find a rally here.
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