Building the Jewish future together

Op-ed in the Berkshire Eagle: on protecting transgender rights and dignity

Postcardside1smallforwebThanks to the Berkshire Eagle for publishing my op-ed: Protect transgender rights and dignity.

For those who can't get to the digital edition, I'm reprinting the op-ed here on my blog.


NORTH ADAMS — On Election Day this November, voters in Massachusetts will encounter a referendum on our state law that protects transgender people from discrimination and harassment in public places. A "yes" vote on Question 3 would uphold current law, which means transgender people would maintain the rights and dignity to which they are now legally entitled. A "no" vote on 3 would repeal current law, leaving transgender people vulnerable to discrimination in public places such as restaurants, stores, and hospitals.

As a rabbi, I'm horrified at the prospect of a repeal. I'm voting "yes" on 3 because I have transgender congregants, friends, and loved ones. Because repeal — denying transgender people's rights and dignity — would be counter to the religious values I hold dear. And because repeal would set precedent for the rest of the country, and would embolden bigotry in many forms.

Jewish tradition teaches that we are all made in the divine image. Judaism doesn't understand God to have a physical form (nor, for that matter, a singular gender; we speak of the Divine in terms that are masculine, feminine, and gender-neutral). We can glimpse the "divine image" through humanity's diversity of shapes and sizes, races, sexual orientations, and gender expressions. And because we're all made in the divine image, Judaism teaches that human rights and dignity are everyone's birthright.

My tradition also teaches that one reason why we trace human ancestry back to a single first person is so that no one should be able to say "my ancestors were better than yours" (or, its corollary, "I'm better than you"— or "I deserve to be served in this restaurant while you do not.") My religious values call me to proclaim the inherent rights and dignity of trans people.

Of course, given appropriate division between church (or synagogue) and state, I shouldn't expect any state to legislate based on my religious values. But the secular values we share as Americans also demand a "yes" vote on Question 3. All should be entitled to equal treatment under the law, regardless of gender identity. And all should have the right to be safe from discrimination and harassment in public places: no matter whether we are cisgender or transgender, no matter what our gender expression, no matter what pronouns we prefer.

This matters especially for transgender youth, including those who identify as nonbinary. I want to be able to truthfully tell transgender kids that we see them, and we value them, and we uplift and uphold them in all that they are. I want to be able to promise transgender kids that they will continue to be treated with dignity in coffee shops and movie theaters and doctors' offices, and that they can be who they are in the public sphere without fear. I want to be able to assure transgender kids that we who are old enough to vote will not strip away the protections to which current law entitles them.

I'm thankful to live in a state where people of all gender identities are protected from discrimination. Let's keep it that way. Join me in voting "yes" on 3 in November, and uphold human dignity for all.

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat serves Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams. She is a founding builder at Bayit: Your Jewish Home.