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Largest US Jewish Sect Embraces Transgender Inclusion

Union for Reform Judaism, the largest US Jewish sect, has passed a landmark resolution in favor of transgender inclusion and rights. (Image: Union for Reform Judaism)

Union for Reform Judaism, the largest US Jewish sect, has passed a landmark resolution in favor of transgender inclusion and rights. (Image: Union for Reform Judaism)

The Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish denomination in the United States, approved a groundbreaking pro-transgender resolution on Thursday, vaulting the sect into the lead among Abrahamic faiths in embracing transgender people and their rights.

The resolution, which contains nine points, calls on temples and synagogues affiliated with Reform Judaism to offer cultural training for religious school staff, sermons on transgender issues and gender-neutral restrooms where feasible. It also affirms the right of trans people to be identified by their matching gender and pronouns, calls on officials to make it easier for them to update passports, voter registrations and birth certificates, urges the implementation of anti-discrimination policies and a review of language used in prayers and other areas to ensure that transgender people are “welcomed, included, accepted and respected.”

“Members of the transgender and gender non-conforming communities face particular ongoing legal and cultural bigotry and discrimination,” the resolution states before declaring that the Reform movement “affirms its commitment to the full equality, inclusion and acceptance of people of all gender identities and gender expressions.”

There was little debate or discord over the resolution among the 1.5 million members of the Union for Reform Judaism in North America.

“We have gay, lesbian, the whole rainbow members and on our board of trustees,” Ken Snitz from Temple Israel in Tulsa, Oklahoma told Reuters. “We’re very open and supportive. We don’t just say it. We practice it.”

“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 NBC News. “This is very much of a piece of what it means to be a Reform Jew.”

Reform Judaism has an established history of welcoming transgender people. In 2003, the movement admitted its first openly transgender person to rabbinical school. Earlier this year, it required congregations to consider all candidates for rabbinical posts, regardless of their gender identity.

The inclusive move comes just days after a national controversy erupted over Houston voters’ rejection of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), a measure which would have outlawed discrimination against a wide range of people, including LGBT individuals, in the nation’s fourth-largest city. Opponents of HERO, who were led by Christian fundamentalists and social conservatives, resorted to what critics called “fear-mongering,” running transphobic ads referring to transgender people as “filthy, disgusting and unsafe” and calling trans women “men” who might engage in predatory behavior in women’s bathrooms if given access to them.

Among Jews, Reconstructionists, Jewish Renewal, Humanistic Judaism and even some Conservative Jews have embraced LGBT rights and equality, including marriage equality. Orthodox Judaism remains staunchly opposed to homosexuality and views transgenderism as anathema to the innate and eternal gender characteristics based on Old Testament mythology, going all the way back to the legend of Adam and Eve.

Most Christian sects, including the Roman Catholic Church and nearly all evangelical organizations, view homosexuality and transgenderism as abominations in the eyes of the deity figure God, who commands death by stoning for gays. The Unitarian Universalist Church, Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and United Church of Christ are among the handful of pro-LGBT sects and have even approved same-sex marriage, while the marriage equality debate has exposed a deep rift in the United Methodist Church.

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