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.
The facts and figures speak for themselves. Transgender people have a suicide rate that’s nine times higher than the rate for the overall U.S. population. Trans people are significantly more likely to lose a job, be sexually assaulted, experience unemployment and/or homelessness, or live with HIV. So why is transgender visibility necessary and important? Because people need to see others who look like them to know that society will accept them as their true and authentic selves. To quote Trans Student Educational Resources, “With more visibility comes more understanding.”
I speak from personal experience when I write this. When I moved to Boston in 2013 to attend grad school, I registered at the Heller School at Brandeis and signed my apartment’s lease under a different name. I used different pronouns. On that first day, I came to school presenting as a young woman ready to learn. I knew in my heart that I was being dishonest with myself and my peers, but I wasn’t prepared to face life as a trans person.
“Why not?” you might ask. “Why not be out as transgender when you moved to a new place? No one knows you. You can be whoever you want!” Simply put, I didn’t know any transgender people who were successful and thriving. Every representation of trans people I looked at reinforced my deep-seated concerns about being out. The trans people I saw looked different, were treated badly by friends and strangers, were ostracized from family, and lost life partners when their relationships couldn’t withstand a gender transition.
“Living in the closet has to be better than that,” I thought to myself. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
At Heller, I met and became friends with several transgender and non-binary people — people who were out, visible, smart, successful and happy. Meeting them and hearing their stories forced me to ask myself, “How can I work toward LGBTQ liberation if I’m not my true and authentic self?”
Within a year of starting grad school, I came out as genderqueer to family, friends near and far, and professors and classmates. I started presenting myself as more masculine and changed to a new name and different pronouns. And you know what? Visibility felt great! It fit me like a glove. I’m living life as my authentic self now and couldn’t be happier.
So why does transgender visibility matter? Because you never know when you’re acting as a role model for someone. Everyday transgender visibility shows all people that trans people aren’t scary or deviant; they’re people with the same hopes, dreams, and experiences as everyone else. Visibility means that stories like mine become the exception, rather than the rule.
You can celebrate Transgender Day of Visibility by highlighting the contributions of transgender people in your community, taking explicit actions that show your commitment to valuing gender diversity in all forms, or changing policies and practices to make a physical space more LGBTQ inclusive. To paraphrase poet Emma Lazarus, “Until we are all [visible], we are none of us [visible].”
- Sign our pledge to make the Jewish community safe, affirming, and inclusive for trans youth.
- Download a #TransJewsBelongHere sign to print and place in a window or on your door, add the graphic to your organization’s website, share on social media, and display anywhere you want to say: #TransJewsBelongHere.
- Find an in-person rally in support of trans youth near you. Search Facebook for local events, or contact your city’s LGBTQ organization or state trans organization.
- Contact your local school board. Ask them how they will ensure the safety and dignity of trans youth. Encourage them to adopt district policies that protect transgender youth from discrimination and guarantee access to facilities that align with students’ gender identities.
- Contact your local Jewish institutions. Ask them how they will ensure the safety and dignity of trans youth. Encourage them to join this campaign.
- Invite Keshet to come lead an educational program or training in your community
Lesson Plans/Program Materials
- Gender Boxes
- Gender Diversity in Jewish Sacred Texts
- Gender Identity and our Faith Community: A Congregational Guide for Transgender Advocacy
- Made in God’s Image: Gender Diversity and Our Communal Role
Research and Data/General Information
- Supporting Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Students
- Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey
- Add Yourself to the Acronym: Understanding (Trans)gender in Jewish Life
- Coming Out for my Trans Daughter
- The Road to Pride: Supporting my Transgender Daughter
- Leaving my Ultra-Orthodox Home and Finding My Trans Self Part One and Part Two
- An Open Letter to Tom and Transgender Teens Everywhere
Sample Policies, Statements, and Letters
- Letter from Needham, MA Superintendent affirming support for transgender and immigrant students
- The Mass Board of Rabbis Statement on Transgender Inclusion
- Our Jewish Institutions Must Speak Up and Protect Transgender Children by Robbie Medwed
- URJ Statement and Campaign to Protect Trans Students
- Temple Israel of Boston Statement on Trans Inclusion