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.
Lives were changed last weekend. I know because not long ago I had the honor of attending a Shabbaton like the one Keshet held last weekend, a weekend retreat where LGBTQ teens and allies could explore living simultaneously as Jewish and queer. On paper, it looks like a typical youth group weekend, but most attendees describe it as life-changing. They snack, dance, make new friends, flirt and play; they also discuss scriptural texts with an intellectual rigor and energy that would make any Confirmation Program Director envious.
Since the Trump administration rescinded the guideline memo to schools giving transgender students the right to use bathrooms that match their identities, I have been thinking a lot about one of the text explorations from the weekend. Here are the texts:
A man’s item shall not be on a woman, and a man shall not wear a woman’s garment; whoever does such a thing is an abhorrence unto Adonai.
— Deuteronomy 22:5
Raba said: Any scholar whose inside is not like his outside, is no scholar.
— Babylonian Talmud Yoma 72b
These lines might appear to prohibit cross-dressing, but the teens burst through some initial shyness to grab these texts and found otherwise: if one’s outside should match one’s inside, a trans person would seem to be required to dress as his/her/their identified gender. It’s not really cross-dressing, it’s dressing properly. (Could it ever be just dressing, we wondered together?)
Teens left Keshet’s Shabbaton not only with the feeling of having strengthened all parts of their identities, but also in new possession of how each of those facets (queer and Jewish) has value in the context of the other on a personal level.
I believe that Jewish communities need queer members because they bring a new perspective and energy, and that GSAs should welcome Jewish kids because they ought to have religious diversity too. My point is, in each context, the kids see how they can be valued for exactly and entirely who they are. In other words, they can live with integrity wherever they go.
And isn’t living with integrity, moving through the world with responsibility but without pretense, what we want for ourselves and for our young people?
A Pew Research survey in 2016 noted that a majority of people under 30 are in favor of trans people using the bathrooms that match their identities. In the school districts such as Gavin Grimm’s where the Obama administration guidance supporting trans rights has been resisted, the complaints have come from parents, not the students. By and large, the cis-gendered students are not the ones who have felt threatened by their trans peers’ bathroom use and feel there are more important things going on at school, “like maybe something our sports team did, or something academic,” according to one of Grimm’s schoolmates. Right!
Trans students, in contrast, are much more likely to report having been bullied or assaulted in restrooms than other students; studies have found that a majority of trans and gender-nonconforming people report such problems in restrooms. This contributes to a higher probability of students changing schools or attempting suicide. Something that should matter much less than sports and academics can have fatal consequences.
Let’s learn from our young role models. As a Jewish mother, as a human being who (now that my kids aren’t toddlers) takes for granted being able to pee in peace, I am proud that so many Jewish communities have already pledged to support trans rights through Keshet’s Kavod Achsav campaign.