LGBT Flag in front of congress

Let’s Talk About Gender Identity

Wow! In my first two days interning at the RAC, I have learned so much about some of the issues that the RAC specializes in, including LGBT rights. On Monday, June 17th, I attended a meeting held by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health to discuss important issues that affect the LGBT community. The meeting featured four panelists, each of whom came from very different backgrounds.

The four panelists were Paris Hatcher, former Executive Director of SPARK Reproductive Justice Now, Sesali Bowen, Training Director of United States Student Association, Reverend Rob Keithan, Director of Public Policy for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and Laura Nixon, a lawyer from the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

After each of the panelists spoke about how they came to eventually pursue a career working for reproductive justice, I asked the panel how families could create a healthier dialogue with their children when it comes to discussing gender identity. Two of the panelists responded to my question. While Sesali Bowen talked about the need to have mutual respect between parents and children, Reverend Rob Keithan talked about the need to improve sexuality education. I was amazed by the fact that each of these answers focused on very different issues; there is no “one size fits all” approach to discussing gender identity. At the end of this meeting, I began to think about the ways I could contribute and help members of the LGBT community talk about their identity. What is my responsibility to help create a safe space for comprehensive sexuality education?

In the Talmud, it states, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work but neither are you free to abandon it.” Even though I do not feel as connected to the LGBT community as the panelists who spoke at the event, I still want to be able to support members of this community. I believe that one way I can support this community is by reaching out to those who may struggle to speak about their identity and create a safe environment for them to express themselves.

The obligation of performing mitzvot is deeply ingrained in our tradition. However, there are many ways to perform mitzvot; one of these ways is to create a safe environment for others so that they can express their true identities. After this meeting, I found myself wondering what my role is in helping to create that type of environment regardless of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

I also believe that learning to create a safe space can be a way of embracing tikkun olam. Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson once stated, “Tzedakah is not about giving; Tzedakah is about being.” It is not enough to simply perform acts of tikkun olam because it is essential justice. Tikkun olam has to be fully embraced in each and every one of us.  I often take for granted the fact that I was able to have a healthy relationship with my parents. I hope to continue to learn more about the needs of many individuals within the LGBT community in order to help as many individuals as possible create a safe environment in which to live.

From just this one meeting, I learned that there can be more than one way to address some of the needs of the LGBT community, including the need for open and healthy discussions about gender identity to exist in all families. In fact, this conversation has encouraged me to explore different ways of discussing the difficulty of openly talking about sexuality. The more ideas that can be brought to the table, the easier it will be to break the silence that can occur between parents and LGBT children. Now is the time to unite with the LGBT community and help strengthen our nation’s sexuality education.

Here are a few links to help you get started:

Sam StoneSam Stone is a rising sophomore at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. He is a Machon Kaplan participant interning at the Religious Action Center.

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Machon Kaplan Participant

About Machon Kaplan Participant

Machon Kaplan is the Religious Action Center's work/study internship program for undergraduate students interested in Judaism and social justice. Learn more at The views expressed in these posts do not necessarily reflect the views of the Reform Movement.

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