The Union for Reform Judaism, the body representing the largest Jewish denomination in North America, is expected to pass a sweeping transgender rights and equality resolution Thursday. The measure is on the agenda for the group's biennial meeting, which kicks off Wednesday in Orlando, Florida.
"We welcome and celebrate people of all sexual orientations in our congregations and oppose laws that fail to uphold principles of equality for all," says the Resolution on the Rights of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People. "Too often transgender and gender non-conforming individuals are forced to live as second-class citizens."
To that end, the resolution calls for implementation of gender-neutral bathrooms, making the language of prayer more inclusive, providing training for religious schools and calling on national governments in the United States and Canada to pass legislation that will codify the rights of transgender citizens into law.
Reform Judaism counts more than a third of U.S. Jews among their ranks. The move will put the division in the company of other liberal leaning denominations which have passed similar measures, including the Episcopal Church, the Unitarian Universalist Association and United Church of Christ. The URJ resolution, however, is expected to be the most dramatic thus far, the Associated Press reported.
"Within our congregations, this is a natural evolution rather than some wholesale departure or new direction," Barbara Weinstein, director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, told the Associated Press. "This is very much of a piece of what it means to be a Reform Jew."
"This is very much of a piece of what it means to be a Reform Jew."
Weinstein's claim is backed up by a long history of openness toward LGBT congregants by the Reformed Jewish community, long known among American Jews for its progressive tendencies. In 1977, just four years after the American Psychiatric Association struck homosexuality its list of mental disorders, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis supported a similar resolution affirming "the rights of homosexuals." Only four years previously, homosexuality has been classified as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association. Meanwhile, the first transgender rabbi of Reform Judaism, Elliot Kukla, was ordained nearly a decade ago.
Despite the progress made on the LGBT front in recent years, many in the transgender community have accused the movement of leaving them behind. In many cases, they point to Faustian bargains that excluded transgender rights, struck as compromises to advance the overall movement.
"Trans people continue to be marginalized within the LGBT rights struggle, treated as tokens when convenient," Meredith Talusan, a transgender woman, wrote in the American Prospect last year.
With the Union for Reform Judaism resolution and the growing visibility of the transgender community, however, that is something which is likely to change.