Trans Visibility: Caitlyn Jenner, Transgender Rights, and Jewish Values
Earlier this month, Vanity Fair released its July issue cover story, headlined “Call me Caitlyn.” The preview, which included photos of Caitlyn Jenner (formerly known as Bruce), resulted in both positive and negative feedback on the internet. Caitlyn’s gender identity had been speculated by the media for months, with Caitlyn coming out as transgender in an interview with Diane Sawyer in
April. Caitlyn’s decision to come out publicly and visibly should be applauded, and her story in Vanity Fair is especially timely as we celebrate LGBT Pride Month. Caitlyn’s transition has helped increase the visibility of transgender issues among the general population and will most likely help increase people’s understanding of what it means to be trans.
However, it is important that we complement trans visibility with legislation that furthers trans rights in order to ensure that full equality is achieved.
Caitlyn has been fortunate enough to receive support from her family and to have the financial resources to transition in the manner she desired. But unfortunately, this is not true for most transgender people. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 57% of respondents experienced significant family rejection and 15% reported a household income under $10,000/year, nearly four times the general population. In addition, 47% reported experiencing an adverse job outcome, such as being refused a job, denied a promotion or fired because of their gender identity or expression.
There is currently no federal law that explicitly protects transgender people from discrimination though some government bodies have ruled that discrimination against an individual based on their gender identity is sex discrimination. For example, in 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission held that transgender discrimination is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, these rulings could be overturned by a new administration and we therefore need explicit comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination protections. Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) and Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) have both announced that they will jointly be introducing legislation that would offer comprehensive non-discrimination protections for LGBT people.
The Reform Jewish Movement is committed to ending discrimination against LGBT people, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis' recent resolution on transgender rights calls on Reform Jewish institutions to not only be more inclusive and welcoming to trans people but to also advocate for trans rights in our larger communities.
But we need your help to spread knowledge about what it means to be transgender and combat transphobia. Check out PFLAG’s guide to being a trans ally and GLAAD’s tip sheet for talking about transgender people and specifically Caitlyn Jenner, and then check out the history of gender diversity in Jewish tradition.