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Using Your “Extra Life” to Advocate for Others

Using Your “Extra Life” to Advocate for Others

• by Livia Bernstein

As the melodies and messages of the High Holy Days ring powerfully in our minds and hearts, we look ahead to the ways we can affirm the central truths of this season. On Erev Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi David Stern said, “The truth is, as Americans living in the 21st century, we’ve been given not only an extra year, but as science writer Steven Johnson puts it in the title of his latest fascinating book, an Extra Life.” Our opportunity to embrace an Extra Life, is not only for ourselves, but for those in our community whose very lives are under threat, such as transgender Americans, especially transgender youth. According to a 2020 study by The Trevor Project, 60% of trans youth have engaged in self harm, while 40% seriously considered suicide in the past 12 months.  

In the Texas Legislature, there are currently 13 bills under consideration that will infringe on the rights of transgender youth. For example, SB3 requires public-school students who want to compete in interscholastic sports to play on teams based on their sex assigned at birth. This bill has already passed the Senate and has already been referred to the House Public Education Committee for action. Another bill prohibits physicians and other health care providers from prescribing, administering, or supplying puberty-blocking medicine to a child under the age of 18. Yet another bill bars mental health professionals from providing gender-affirming mental healthcare to transgender youth.

The American Academy of Pediatrics argues that these bills arise from myths and misinformation about transgender youth rather than science and evidence. Studies have shown that suicide rates fall by 70% when a transgender youth is given medication to delay puberty, which gives the child time to learn about themselves and understand how they feel regarding their identity. Importantly these medications are administered with full parental knowledge and consent and all while under the care of a team of physicians. Sports bans, like the one proposed in SB3, can also negatively affect transgender youth: Students who are living and presenting as their true selves may have to choose between playing a sport they love and being outed by their school or government.

We are all, each one of us, created B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. This Jewish value calls upon us to ensure that people of all races, creed, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression can live their lives fully. It is our responsibility as Reform Jews to pursue a path of greater justice and educate others on the importance of equality for all.

Therefore, it is vital that we, as a Temple Emanu-El community, advocate for the transgender community and let our elected officials know that we are opposed to the legislation that puts our transgender youth at risk. Here are several ways to get involved in the Texas and Temple community.

  1. Get involved through Equality Texas by writing to your legislators, making phone calls, or offering testimony.
  2. Use this toolkit from Resources for Transgender Youth in Texas to educate our families.
  3. Educate yourself and others on the danger of these bills here.
  4. Follow along with Twilight People to hear stories of faith and gender beyond the binary.
  5. Become a member of Temple Responds, our Temple social justice Facebook group where opportunities are posted.
  6. Inform yourself and others through these books our Librarian/Archivist, Anjelica Ruiz, put together for our congregation.
  7. Learn more about Temple’s LGBTQ community through the Webpage or Facebook group.

We understand and acknowledge that it may be very challenging for the transgender members of our community, and for the people who love them, to see and hear these attacks on their rights. We encourage people to reach out to Meredith Pryzant, Director of Member Support, at mpryzant@tedallas.org for resources. Additional resources that may be helpful include the Trevor Project and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

If you are interested in learning more about Temple advocacy, LGBTQ advocacy, or receiving training on testifying before the legislature, please reach out to Erica Strauss, the Director of Social Justice, at estrauss@tedallas.org.

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