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Transgender Day of Remembrance: Looking Back and Moving Forward

Transgender Day of Remembrance: Looking Back and Moving Forward

This week marks Transgender Awareness Week, leading up to Transgender Day of Remembrance on Friday, November 20th. The day was originally initiated by transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith as a vigil to honor the memory of Rita Hester.

Rita was a highly visible member of the transgender community in Boston, where she was a local advocate and an educator on transgender issues. In November 1998, Rita was stabbed 20 times in her apartment and passed away moments after being admitted to the hospital.

Today, Transgender Day of Remembrance is meant to memorialize not just Rita but all those whose lives were lost due to anti-transgender acts of violence and prejudice.

This year, Transgender Awareness Week is particularly meaningful for me as a Reform Jew because two weeks ago, I stood among 5,000 Reform Jews at the Union for Reform Judaism Biennial as we officially – and unanimously – adopted a new resolution on the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming people, applauded by a standing ovation.

The passage of the resolution is a reflection of the Reform Jewish community’s unwavering commitment to full equality and inclusion for the LGBT community in synagogues, in Jewish life, and in broader society. It further formalizes Reform Judaism’s longstanding and deeply held value that all people are deserving of dignity and respect.

Jewish tradition teaches that every person is created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of the Divine. We are all God’s children who each have special and unique gifts to share with each other and the world. As Reform Jews, we would be remiss to not welcome and celebrate all of these gifts and talents.

Our Reform Jewish institutions and congregations have already begun to take steps to carry out the words of this recent resolution and will only continue to do so. Recently, we at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism created a resource for congregations to use as they begin their work on congregational transgender inclusion. In the coming months, we will be producing a more in-depth guide to assist the broader Jewish community in this important work. 

Especially as we mark Transgender Awareness Week, we are called to remember the terrible discrimination and violence faced by transgender people today. In the U.S., this discrimination is, in part, a result of a lack of critical legal protections. Just as our laws protect other marginalized groups of people, so must we ensure that LGBT people are afforded explicit protections against discrimination.

The Equality Act (H.R. 3185/S.1858), introduced by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Representative David Cicilline (D-RI), would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in key areas of law such as employment, housing and public accommodations. This is the most comprehensive civil rights legislation for LGBT individuals, and would ensure that LBGT people are no discriminated against for simply being who they are. Take action today: Urge your Member of Congress to support the Equality Act.

On this Transgender Day of Remembrance, may we remember all those taken too soon and commit to a future when all people may live with dignity and respect – regardless of gender identity.

To learn more about the Reform Jewish community’s work regarding transgender issues, visit rac.org/trans. Learn more about wider Jewish community’s work by visiting Keshet.

Tracy Wolf was a 2015-2016 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (the RAC), and currently serves as the RAC's Leadership Development Associate. Originally from Syosset, N.Y., she is a member of North Shore Synagogue and a graduate of Dickinson College.

Tracy Wolf
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