Reform Jews approve far-reaching transgender resolution

FOX 35 News at 5 p.m.

- The largest movement of Judaism in the U.S. passed the most far-reaching resolution in support of transgender rights of any major religious organization, saying Thursday that it's a continuation of a tradition of inclusion in the Reform Jewish movement.

Members of the Union for Reform Judaism attending its biennial meeting in Orlando approved on a voice vote the resolution, which calls for congregations and camps to have gender-neutral bathrooms and encourages gender-neutral language at Reform Jewish institutions. It also suggests training on gender issues for religious school staff and encourages advocating on behalf of the transgender community.

There was no opposition, although three conference attendees who said they were in favor of the resolution asked if preschools and religious schools would be affected. Union for Reform Judaism leaders said they would be, but they weren't asking congregations to spend extra money on new facilities.

After the resolution passed, most of the 5,000-attendees in the meeting hall stood up and applauded.

"Your reaction in this room shows what this movement is about. It makes me very proud," said Stephen Sacks, chairman of the Union for Reform Judaism's board.

Other religious bodies, such as the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, previously approved resolutions affirming equality for transgender and non-gender-conforming people. None, however, go as far as the one offered by the Reform Jewish movement, which counts 1.5 million members.

The Union for Reform Judaism is offering a one-page pamphlet to help congregations adopt the goals of the resolution. It suggests dividing kids by birth month rather than gender in youth programming and avoiding using gender titles such as "Mr." or "Mrs." on nametags or in emails. It also to ask congregants by which pronouns they would prefer to be called.

The resolution doesn't mandate congregations to do anything, so it will be up to individual synagogues to implement policies to meet the goals of the resolution.

"One of the key components is it calls for resources, development and training so we get into the congregations and do training with their leaders, youth professionals, rabbis, lay leaders, and then supply them with materials on how do you deal with bathrooms? How do you deal with language? How do you deal with prayer?" said Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, a senior vice president with the Union for Reform Judaism.

The resolution was approved in a year when transgender issues have never been more visible, thanks to Caitlyn Jenner and others, but Union for Reform Judaism officials said it has been in the works for some time and is part of a tradition of inclusion that dates back decades. The Union of Reform Judaism in 1977 passed a resolution affirming the rights of gays and lesbians.

More than 6 million Jews live in the United States, less than 2 percent of the nation's population, and more than a third of all Jews in the U.S. identify with the Reform movement, according to a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center. Less than a fifth of them identify with Conservative Judaism — sort of a middle-ground ideologically between the more liberal Reform movement and traditional Orthodox Judaism. Orthodox Jews account for 10 percent of U.S. Jews, and Reconstructionist and other smaller movements make up 6 percent.


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