Earlier this month, my 17-year-old son and I joined members of our Philadelphia Jewish community to march in Philly’s Pride parade. Our intergenerational group included babies in strollers, kids and teens, a proud Zayde and every age in between. A cantor led us in joyful singing as we marched, starting us off with the Shehechiyanu and then taking us into “Hava Nagila” and other favorites. Directly behind us, a group of activists chanted for trans rights.
My son and I were right in the middle of both groups, moving fluidly from singing Jewish melodies to joining the protest chants. As I marched on, I welled up with tears. I did not want my son to see me cry — I try not to project the fear that I carry as a mother of a transgender child onto him. He has found the courage to claim his identity, even in a time when politicians are enacting legislation that threatens to deny his humanity. It’s a lot for a young person to hold without seeing your mom cry about it.
But I was so moved at how the Jewish community and the queer community could come together so seamlessly, affirming my son’s — and our family’s — place in both groups. And I knew that is not always the case.
Over the last few years, the Jewish community here has come together in innovative and powerful ways to support LGBTQ+ folks and their families. There is J-Proud, an initiative of JFCS that builds community and pride in being Jewish and LGBTQ+ through a consortium of synagogues and Jewish agencies. There is jkidpride for LGBTQ+ families at Jewish Learning Venture (the agency where I work), which helps connect and support LGBTQ+ families raising Jewish children. Along with a wide variety of programming at local synagogues during both Pride month and throughout the year, our community is working to create welcoming and safe spaces for LGBTQ+ Jews. We know that this reality is not inherent in all Jewish synagogues, schools and other settings.
I’ve marched during Pride for several years now and always embrace the festive, collective energy of people celebrating who they are. But this year, I felt the serious and somber weight of marching for LGBTQ+ rights in different and more immediate ways. As we marched through historic Philadelphia, there were lots of people holding signs in support of trans rights and especially trans kids. Over the year that’s passed since last Pride, anti-trans legislation has increased across the United States, impacting everything from public bathroom usage for transgender people to access to gender-affirming medical care for trans children.
There’s data now to back up the impact of this political reality on transgender people: A 2022 Trevor Project survey shows that 93% of trans and nonbinary youth are worried about anti-trans legislation that denies gender-affirming medical care and 75% of the same youth report symptoms of anxiety and depression due to social stigma, discrimination and bullying. We also know that the suicide rate is higher for transgender people than for the general population.
In the year and a half since my son came out, I’ve learned more about gender identity than ever before. I was fortunate to already have trans friends and colleagues, and had also been present as children of close friends explored and chose different gender identities. When my son came out, my husband and I and our extended family were there to support him. We know that many young people do not have that kind of love and community.
And yet, the fear of what’s happening across our country is real to him and to us. There is a college that we wanted to look at in Florida for him, but we’ve crossed that off our list. The state doesn’t feel safe anymore. Even as I write these words, I know that I will never look at the comments that will be written about me and my child in response to them. Trans hatred is real.
In the face of this reality, I encourage everyone to learn more about gender identity and to join communal efforts that not only welcome and support trans people but that also take action against what is clearly a campaign to marginalize and erase a group of people’s rights. You can read books that share a Jewish perspective, such as the new anthology “The Wisdom of Transkeit,” edited by Rabbi Jane Rachel Litman and Jakob Hero-Shaw. You can follow the ACLU’s efforts to map anti-trans legislation and speak out to your representatives when these issues arise. And you can keep families like mine in mind when ensuring that your community is as open and inclusive as possible.
As Jews, the value of pikuach nefesh, saving lives, is the primary value that guides our behavior and interactions. There is a clear connection between the kinds of anti-trans legislation that are being passed and the physical and mental health of the trans community. As a faith and cultural community, we can’t stay neutral or on the sidelines of what’s happening — human life is at stake.
My grandfather left Germany when he was 19 years old, just as Hitler came to power. He lost all of his immediate family and I’ve spent much of the emotional energy of my adult life trying to grasp his and their experience. There are parts of that traumatic legacy that can be healed and some that can’t yet, even three generations later. I think about what kind of trauma my son and other trans kids are living through now — and how that might ripple on throughout generations to come.
I am grateful to be part of a beautiful community that accepts and affirms that to be Jewish and trans is to be part of two beautiful legacies that go hand in hand. And I hope that more Jewish communities take on the call for trans rights. Speaking out for justice is not only what we as Jews are called to do, it is a vital way that we respond to the pain of the world.