Reform Judaism moves to further embrace transgender people


The largest Jewish movement in North America has endorsed a ground breaking policy to embrace transgender people at their biennial conference on Thursday.

In a resounding voice vote, Reform Judaism embraced some of the most far-reaching policies for transgender people seen among any of the nation's mainstream religious organizations, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights advocates said.

The resolution calls for congregations to offer cultural training for religious school staff, sermons on transgender issues and gender-neutral restrooms where feasible.

The measure generated little discord among the 1.5 million North America Jews affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism, which is holding a biennial conference in Orlando, Florida.

"We have gay, lesbian, the whole rainbow members and on our board of trustees," said Ken Snitz from Temple Israel in Tulsa, Oklahoma. "We're very open and supportive. We don't just say it. We practise it."

The Episcopal Church and United Church of Christ also have adopted positions in support of transgender issues. Yet the Reform Jewish movement's policy goes further by listing specific actions to promote inclusion, said Michael Toumayan of the national Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for gay rights.

"It's a big deal, but at the same time it's not controversial for them at all," he said.

It is Reform Judaism's first anti-discrimination policy on transgender issues, said Barbara Weinstein, associate director of the Religious Action Centre of Reform Judaism, a Washington-based advocacy centre.

In 2003, the movement admitted its first openly transgender person to rabbinical school and in 2015 required congregations to consider all candidates for rabbinical jobs, regardless of gender identity, according to the resolution.

The measure also urges public policy changes to make it easier for transgender people to update passports, voter registrations and birth certificates, and to be identified with pronouns and have access to public restrooms according to their gender identity.

Although many of the 900 affiliated Reform congregations already are welcoming to transgender people, others will now address the issue for the first time, Weinstein said.

The move was welcomed by Jewish LGBT campaigners in the UK: "This is a step beyond what we've seen in UK Judaism, because it's not only supportive but has concrete action points," Maxwell Zachs of Queer and Transgender Jews UK told The Guardian.

Reform Judaism in the UK is more conservative, according to Zachs, and although they support transgender people, "practical changes will be more difficult."

Some smaller religious institutions, such as the Unitarian Universalist Church and the Metropolitan Community Church, which organized as a Christian centre for LGBT people, also have strong anti-discrimination policies, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Additional reporting by Reuters.