Standing Again at Sinai, Again: Jewish Feminism and Transgender Jews

From Lilith:

November 12, 2015

When we think about the achievements of feminism in the US, we usually think about how feminist political activity has changed, and continues to change, the status of women. But in demanding that American Jewish communities and institutions reconsider women’s place and status in them, Jewish feminists have also laid the groundwork for inclusion of transgender Jews by teaching the Jewish world to think about gender.

Marshall McLuhan said that whoever discovered water, you can bet it wasn’t a fish. Before feminism, in most Jewish communities, gender was like water to fish: an invisible, omnipresent medium that permeated every aspect of Jewish identity, from family life to religious practice to social roles to institutional priorities. Jewish families and communities automatically sorted their members by gender, assigning them radically different roles, responsibilities, resources and possibilities; everywhere, Jewish tradition, ritual, liturgy and sacred texts assumed and reinforced the idea that gender divisions were a natural part of Judaism and Jewishness.

American Jewish feminists were fish who discovered water. Though their names and writings were rarely mentioned in the upstate New York Jewish world I grew up in, the work done by Judith Plaskow, Esther Broner, Rivka Haut, Alicia Ostriker and so many others prompted even our backwater congregations to think about gender rather than to assume it, and to recognize that the automatic gendered allocation of roles (the most public, of course, went to men, and the most laborious largely were given to women) was not an inherent, unchangeable aspect of synagogue life, but choices we were making every day. As women in our communities started to question those choices and work toward changing them, everyone, even those defending traditional gender roles, found themselves thinking and talking about gender – and realizing that different members of same community often had very different ideas about what it means to be a Jewish man or a Jewish woman. Feminist theory, queer theory, and gender studies were never mentioned, but as synagogue members debated whether women could be rabbis and presidents, and whether omnipresent male pronouns needed to be changed in prayer books (do we really have to buy new prayer books?) and policy statements (isn’t it clear that “man” means “everyone”?), they were learning that maleness and femaleness and the language and customs that go with them are not fixed by biology or divine decree, but, like so much else in Jewish life, are subject to negotiation.

Thanks to the work of Jewish feminists, Jewish communities across the United States found ideas of gender multiplying like frogs in Pharaoh’s bed. Gender divisions were becoming a source of controversy, disruption, an endless font of inequity and grievance. Many non-Orthodox congregations responded by eliminating gender distinctions in ritual, institutional roles and prayers, creating forms of Judaism and Jewishness that don’t require Jews to be defined as, or to define ourselves, as male or female. (I saw how far we had come when my young son, who grew up with Sheila Peltz Weinberg as his rabbi, asked me one day if men could be rabbis too – a question that demonstrated both how much feminism had changed Judaism, and how hard it is to overcome our tendency to think of Judaism as bound up with and divided by gender.)

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Professor sues over rebuke for calling female transgender student ‘sir’

From NBC News:

He contends the university violated his constitutional rights by compelling him to speak in a way that contradicts his religious beliefs.

By Brooke Sopelsa
Nov. 12, 2018

A professor is suing officials at his small public university in Ohio after receiving a written warning for violating its nondiscrimination policy by not addressing a transgender student using the gender terms preferred by the student.

Nicholas Meriwether, a philosophy professor and evangelical Christian, filed a federal lawsuit this month against officials at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, roughly 85 miles south of Columbus. He contends that officials violated his constitutional rights by, among other things, compelling him to speak in a way that contradicts his religious beliefs.

“In January 2018, a male student demanded that Dr. Meriwether address him as a woman because he identified as such and threatened to have Dr. Meriwether fired if he declined,” the lawsuit, filed on Nov. 5, states. “To accede to these demands would have required Dr. Meriwether to communicate views regarding gender identity that he does not hold, that he does not wish to communicate, and that would contradict (and force him to violate) his sincerely held Christian beliefs.”

After the student, a transgender female, complained to the university, the lawsuit alleges the school “punished” Meriwether for “expressing views that differ from its own orthodoxy and for declining to express its mandated ideological message.”

“Continuing in their role as the self-appointed grammar police, Defendants threaten to punish him again if he continues to express his views,” the suit continues. “Under their policies, all professors must refer to each student — both in and out of class — using whatever pronouns the student claims reflect his gender identity.”

The lawsuit claims “the number of potential gender identities is infinite” and states there are “over one hundred different options currently available.”

Meriwether, who has worked at the university since 1996, argued he didn’t discriminate and that he treated the student like “other biologically male students.” He unsuccessfully challenged his reprimand in a grievance process.

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed the lawsuit on Meriwether’s behalf. The Arizona-based conservative Christian law firm has a decadeslong track record of litigating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, and it has been labeled an anti-LGBTQ “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a designation ADF disputes.

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Georgia House candidate compares transgender people to moose

From Atlanta’s Project Q:

By Patrick Saunders
Oct 5, 2018

A candidate for a state House district in West Cobb says transgender people demand “special rights” and shouldn’t receive them whether they identify “as a man or a moose.”

Ginny Ehrhart made the comments to the Marietta Daily Journal while discussing Kennesaw State University removing pamphlets from campus that included gender-neutral pronouns and locations of single-stall and gender-neutral restrooms.

Ehrhart’s husband, state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, mocked the pamphlets in a House subcommittee hearing in May, calling the pronouns “fantasy language.” Campus newspaper the Sentinel reported that the school subsequently removed the documents from a website and campuses in Kennesaw and Marietta.

Ginny Ehrhart is running in District 36 to replace her retiring husband, the longest-serving Republican in the House and its most outspoken anti-LGBTQ member. She told the Marietta Daily Journal that students can find restrooms on their own and then criticized transgender people and compared them to animals.

The Republican candidate agreed that all citizens are indeed valuable and worthy of respect.

“This does not mean certain individuals are entitled to special favors, rights and accommodations because they’ve been identified as ‘victims’ by leftist ideologues. Whether a person identifies as a man or a moose, he does not have the right to demand special treatment from his neighbors,” Ginny Ehrhart said.

Jen Slipakoff, Ehrhart’s Democratic opponent, blasted the comments. Slipakoff is an LGBTQ ally and has a transgender daughter.

“To me, that’s a dog whistle for comparing the LGBTQ community to animals, and frankly I won’t stand for that,” Slipakoff told Project Q Atlanta.

Slipakoff told the Marietta Daily Journal that the removal of the pamphlets was, “Earl Ehrhart’s continued and blatant overreach of power.”

“For someone that claims to be from the party of small government, he certainly seems to be elbow-deep in the administrative affairs of Kennesaw State University,” she said.

Slipakoff added that it doesn’t hurt anyone to have the information in the pamphlets out there, and that the emotional health of trans and non-binary students can improve with access to such facilities.

Ginny Ehrhart said that students don’t need a pamphlet to find a single-stall bathroom.

“This is college, not preschool,” she said. “These students are perfectly capable of locating an appropriate bathroom and do not need a ‘helicopter advocate’ labeling them as ‘emotionally unhealthy.”

Ehrhart and Slipakoff face off in the election on Nov. 6. Human Rights Campaign Atlanta hosts a canvassing event for Slipakoff on Saturday in Kennesaw.

Rep. Ehrhart helped gut an Atlanta non-discrimination ordinance in 2005 after the city imposed fines on the Druid Hills Golf Club for not granting spousal benefits to the partners of LGBTQ people. In 2012, he called the gay leader of a progressive group “a pansy.”

In 2015, he punished Delta Air Lines for opposing an anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom bill.” That same year, he said an art exhibit about AIDS in America was “sickening.”

The following year, he voted for an anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” bill that was vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal, and in 2017, he mocked transgender students from the House floor.

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Ontario PC Party passes resolution to debate recognition of gender identity

From Global News Ca.:

November 17, 2018

The Ontario PC Party has passed a resolution to debate whether or not the party should recognize gender identity.

The vote happened Saturday morning, during the party’s three-day convention in Toronto.

The resolution says gender identity theory is “A highly controversial, unscientific ‘liberal ideology’; and, as such, that an Ontario PC Government will remove the teaching and promotion of ‘gender identity theory’ from Ontario schools and its curriculum.”

Earlier in the day, it was believed that the vote would be adopted as party policy, but after Global News broke the story, the PC Party clarified its position.

“To be clear, the resolutions passed from the floor were passed only as debate items for next year’s convention,” the party said. “They were not passed as policy coming out of this convention … We are a party that encourages open discussion and debate and giving the grassroots of our party a voice.”

Tanya Granic Allen, a former Ontario PC candidate who introduced the resolution, responded to the initial reports that it was passed by tweeting, “True story!”

The decision is also not binding government policy.

Allen was an Ontario PC candidate for the recent general provincial election in June but was ousted as a candidate before election day.

In May, the Ontario Liberals brought attention to a 2014 video showing Allen speaking negatively about gay marriage. The PCs dropped her as a candidate calling her comments ‘irresponsible.’

“As you saw in the room, the overwhelming majority of members voted in favour of this so it’s a very happy day for parents in Ontario,” Allen said following the vote. “Gender identity theory is unscientific and highly controversial and parents are concerned about what their children are being taught.”

The passing of the resolution drew immediate criticism from the NDP.

“The party that controls Mr. Ford’s leadership — the party that can oust him if they’re not happy — is sending a clear demand that they want Ontario dragged backwards,” said NDP MPP Marit Stiles. “I think for average Ontarians, this is scary.”

“My initial reaction was true and general disappointment,” said Lyra Evans, a transgender rights advocate.

Evans is also the first openly transgender school trustee in Canada representing zone nine of the Ottawa-Carlton District School Board.

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Online platforms have enabled “deluge of hatred against trans women” in the UK

From Open Democracy:

Social media platforms have policies against discriminatory and hateful content – but LGBTQ+ rights activists say they’re not working.

Sophie Hemery
15 November 2018

Trans people in the UK have faced a “deluge of hatred” and an increasingly “hostile environment” online, say LGBTQ+ rights activists. Social media platforms including Twitter and YouTube have policies intended to prevent discriminatory and hateful content, but activists say they’re not working.

“If I said I was transgender or supportive of transgender people on Twitter, I would just be pounced on”, said Claire Birkenshaw, a university lecturer and LGBTQ+ rights activist in Leeds, describing this “hostile environment”.

Adrian Harrop, an NHS doctor and LGBTQ+ activist, said that frequent, sweeping claims that present trans people as “sexual deviants and predatory criminals” appear to be “radicalising” others against trans rights online.

“I didn’t know where the next punch was going to come from and in the end I had a nervous breakdown”, said Sarah Brown, a former Cambridge city councillor, describing “psychologically exhausting and intimidating” abuse.

Brown said there’s been a “deluge of hatred against trans women” in the UK over the last year amid potential reforms to the Gender Recognition Act, which would make it easier for trans people to change their legal gender.

“The change in public acceptability of transphobia has moved radically within the last six months”, added Ms X, a feminist who requested anonymity amid fears of such abuse and to protect the identity of her trans child.

Chiara Capraro, women’s human rights programme manager at the NGO Amnesty International UK, said rising transphobia has been fuelled by “misinformation and false statements spreading”.

Common forms of transphobic abuse include intentionally misgendering trans people or “deadnaming” them, said Capraro, while false statements include those that present trans women as abusive men.

Social media platforms have policies against ‘hateful content’ that targets people based on characteristics including gender identity. But they’re not working, said Brown. “It’s almost like they think the only thing that is transphobic is standing in the street shooting trans people”.

“You get a bunch of people abusing a trans woman, saying she’s a pervy man – pretty much the textbook definition of transphobia”, she said, “and the reports come back saying it doesn’t violate policies”.

Twitter lends itself very readily to people being bullied off”, said Harrop. He described one tactic called ‘dog-piling’, in which “networks of people… will go onto a post to hurl abuse and try to silence” someone.

It’s not unusual for harassers to protect their own identities with anonymised accounts, Harrop said, nor is it uncommon for them to “come back in another incarnation” if they’re ever suspended for their comments.

Brown meanwhile described a “proliferation of fake accounts” over the last year, apparently set up specifically to target trans people, echoing “the American far-right and the tactics in the Trump election”.

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Targeting gender identity for conversion therapy is just as wrong as targeting sexual orientation

From Medium:

Florence Ashley
November 17, 2018

In a recent article, philosopher Dr. Kathleen Stock expressed concern over the definition of conversion therapy put forward by Stonewall and major UK mental health organisations because it includes both sexual orientation and gender identity.

Her article raises two primary arguments against the inclusion of gender identity within the definition of conversion therapy. Firstly, she implies that gender identity isn’t unchangeable or harmless, unlike sexual orientation. Secondly, she argues that affirming gender identity would be tantamount to conversion therapy by omission with regards to sexual orientation.

Both arguments are unfounded. Her first argument is empirically mistaken, as available evidence doesn’t support the claim that gender identity is patently more malleable than sexual orientation. Even if it were that would not make conversion therapy ethical, as no evidence supports the claim that being transgender is harmful. Her second argument is theoretically mistaken, as it relies on a confusion between sexual attraction and sexual orientation labels. Although those who transition may change the label they use for their sexual orientation, it doesn’t make their sexual attraction vary: their sexual attraction remains the same.

Gender identity can’t be changed

She claims, correctly, that rejections of anti-gay conversion therapy are grounded in the beliefs that there is “little convincing evidence that a homosexual orientation can be changed after late childhood” and that “homosexuality isn’t harmful, either to the individual or wider society, so there’s no need to try.” The implicit message to readers is that this isn’t the case for gender identity and therefore that the parallel between anti-gay and anti-trans reparative therapy is illegitimate.

Contrary to her suggestion, we have good reasons to think that, gender identity can’t be changed after late childhood either. In a 2011 study from the Netherlands, all 70 youth who undertook hormonal puberty suppression continued to be transgender into adulthood. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health also explains that reparative treatments have “been attempted in the past without success, particularly in the long term.” Indeed, even practitioners whose practices have been likened to conversion therapy no longer attempt to alter gender identity after puberty because evidence suggests that it is fixed by that age. Even evidence that pre-pubertal youth’s gender identity can be altered has significant flaws and limitations, raising doubts as to whether gender identity is ever malleable.

Being trans isn’t harmful

Even if gender identity was malleable, altering it wouldn’t be ethical. It is morally objectionable to seek to change harmless traits which faced historical and ongoing stigma. Trying to make people straight would still be wrong if it was possible. Why would trying to make people cisgender be any different?

Though not expressly stated, I suspect that Dr. Stock’s suggestion here is that it is different because being trans is harmful to oneself and to others.

Although she doesn’t outright state it, her writing on the Gender Recognition Act reform come to mind when it comes to potential harm to others. Given how extensively this reform has been debated in the media, I won’t rehash it. Suffice to say, evidence that being trans harms others is far from forthcoming. On the contrary, a recent study published in Sexuality Research and Social Policy found no increase in criminal incidents in gendered spaces following laws granting trans people access based on their gender identity.

That being trans is harmful to oneself is no more evident. According to recent studies, supporting trans youth’s gender identities makes them as mentally healthy as the rest of the youth population. This confirms what trans scholars and advocates have been saying all along: stigma is the primary determinant of trans wellbeing.

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