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Celebrating Visibility & The Power of Affirming Spaces:
Discussion Guide for Pride Month

Pride Month is celebrated by many in the month of June, the month of the Stonewall Riots in 1969. It is a time to celebrate queer, LGBTQ and gender non-binary people, while also raising awareness of the work that still needs to be done to achieve justice and equality for the entire LGBTQ community.

This material focuses on education on transgender and non-binary people.

Facilitator’s tip: *sometimes the term “transgender” is used an umbrella term to describe anyone whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex. It can also be used more narrowly as a gender identity that reflects a binary gender identity that is “opposite” or “across from” the sex they were assigned at birth. For more info, see Gender Spectrum Language of Gender)

Research on the mental health of teens shows that transgender and nonbinary youth report higher levels of distress on multiple indicators of mental health, including suicidality. However, a key factor in improving their mental health and lowering of these rates is when their gender identities are affirmed and respected. (For more info, see The Trevor Project’s National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health 2020)

At Moving Traditions, creating sacred spaces and sacred relationships amongst teens where identities are affirmed, respected, and celebrated is a key element of our teen groups.

In honor of Pride this, we focus on celebrating trans and nonbinary people, visibility and affirmation for their identities, and in a commitment to their equal and protected rights, with the following discussion and activity guide for teens.

Gender Diversity Within Judaism

SAY:

An important part of Pride in 2021 is affirming gender diversity. While we tend to think of that as a very recent understanding of gender, it actually has roots all the way back to some of our earliest texts in Jewish tradition.

Share this post on Gender Diversity Within Judaism by the Empress Mizrahi aka Matthew Nouriel (she/him/they) with your teens. After everyone has read through the post,

Ask:

What do you feel and/or think about this reading of Genesis 1:27, of God as Genderqueer, encompassing both masculine and feminine characteristics?

Was any aspect of the texts she shared, or his interpretation of it, surprising for you?

They conclude that “God transcends gender and yet encompasses all genders. Those of us who also transcend gender are divine beings, close to G-d.”

How does this understanding change or impact what the term B’tzelem Elohim (the value or idea that we are all created in the image of God) means to you?

Facilitator’s tip: This interpretation of the text may take some time for your teens to digest. Acknowledge that it might take a few moments for people to understand the text, this interpretation of it, and validate that there may be differing opinions and feelings about it.

Visibility, Representation, and Identity

 

SAY:

Seeing gender diversity represented within our tradition and ancient text, in the sacred image of God Themself, is a powerful form of visibility for gender identities that are often not well represented around us.

When we talk about gender identity, the idea of “gender diversity”—and that there are genders outside of the male/female binary—some of the terms may be unfamiliar to you. That’s ok. Part of how we affirm other identities is by being willing to listen, learn, and understand experiences other than or own. Do you have any questions about gender identity, or trans/nonbinary identities?
note to the facilitator: allow your teens to privately message you questions if that is easier for them. If you yourself are unsure of the answer—that is ok! Feel free to share the following links for your teens to explore:

Glossary – The Trevor Project
The Genderbread Person | A free online resource for understanding gender identity, gender expression, and anatomical sex.
Tips for Allies of Transgender People | GLAAD
Understanding Non-Binary People: How to Be Respectful and Supportive | National Center for Transgender Equality (transequality.org)

We’re going to explore how representation, visibility, and affirming identity go hand in hand with an activity that comes from our Tzelem curriculum.

ASK:

Can someone explain what a personal identity is? (In this context, identity refers to the defining characteristics of a person that makes them an individual.)

What are a few examples of identities? (Race, ability, gender, citizenship, etc.)

All people have multiple identities that contribute to who they are.

SAY:

Open a word document/place to type or take out a paper and pen.

Think about the different parts of your identity. What makes you YOU? Put as many words/phrases/ideas as you can think of into the document. It can be a list, separate things, a sentence, etc.

After your teens have gotten a start, start a conversation while they finish up.

ASK:
  • What identities came to mind first?
  • Which ones were harder to come up with? Why?
  • Did anyone write “white?” Did anyone write “able-bodied?”  (If not, why do you think we often are less aware of majority identities than marginal or minority ones?)
  • When do you think most about your gender identity?
  • When do you think least about it?
  • When do you think most about being Jewish?
  • What does it feel like to be around people who hold the same identity?
  • What does it feel like to be the only person of a certain identity in a group?
  • How do these identities impact each other or intersect?
SAY:

Some of our identities are visible and some are not.

For example, my ___ identity is visible while my ____ identity is not visible.

I’m going to read a few statements. If it is true for you, raise your hand.  If you want to pass on any of these, that is also ok.

  •      People know I am Jewish by my name
  •      People say that I look Jewish
  •      Everyone at my school knows I am Jewish
  •      All my friends know I am Jewish
  •      My friends online know that I am Jewish
  •      People in my neighborhood know that my family is Jewish
  •      When I meet a new person, I tell them that I am Jewish
  •      People say that I look like my gender
  •      Everyone at my school knows my gender identity
  •      All my friends know my gender identity
  •      When I meet a new person, I tell them my gender/pronouns
ASK:

Which of those prompts stood out to you?

Do your gender identity and Judaism feel related?

How are visible/invisible identities experienced differently?

Think of an invisible identity you hold. Does it make things easier or harder that this identity isn’t apparent just by looking at you?

When you think about role models, icons, celebrities, public figures, and images, how does seeing someone who looks, acts, or represents something of who you are impact the way you see yourself?

How does that impact what you consider to be your visible or invisible identities?

Look at this list of diverse gender and sexual identities represented in media by our Kol Koleinu Teen Feminist Fellows, Sari Bovitz (she/her) and Izy Lusk (they/them);
And check out this list of LGBTQ+ and Allied Jewish activists

What identities are represented? Which aren’t? Are there additional media you would add to this list?

We know that one of the key factors that can significantly support the mental health of trans and nonbinary teens is having spaces and relationships where their gender identities and pronouns are affirmed and respected.

What role does representation and visibility play in creating spaces that affirm and respect diverse identities?

Action: The Equality Act

Across the country, there are currently many issues and pieces of legislation that deal with either protecting or denying/threatening the rights of the trans community. Specifically, more than 80 anti-trans bills are pending in state legislatures. Most are targeting trans teens either by denying them the right to take puberty blockers or by denying them the right to play high school athletics on the teams of their gender (rather than their sex assigned at birth).

The Equality Act, first introduced in 1974 by Jewish feminist Rep. Bella Abzug, is proposed federal legislation that would extend civil right anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ Americans in key areas including employment, housing, education, and public spaces, and would be crucial on many of the issues that currently threaten the rights of transgender and nonbinary people. It has been passed by the House of Representatives and now needs to pass the Senate in order for President Biden to sign it into law (which he has promised to do).
Moving Traditions joins with Keshet and other partners in the Jewish community in support of passing the Equality Act, and we invite you and your teens to take action to send the message to the Senate to pass this important legislation.

Closing

We suggest this closing from our Tzelem teen groups:

SAY:

Let’s bless each other and spread the idea of love and community as we close.

Invite everyone to close their eyes and imagine they are looking into the flame of a candle, glowing brightly.

SAY:

When you look directly into the flame, notice how the flame’s shape is constantly changing. Think all the colors that make up you, uniquely, in your many identities.

Notice also how the flame’s shape and colors reflected within are constantly changing and evolving as the fire remains anchored at the wick. Let’s take some time to give thanks for all the colors in the flame that are ours. Take a moment to look into the flame and give thanks for yourself, and the colors you add to this flame.

Now, because our group is a place to cultivate and experience support, where who you are is affirmed and respected, we are going to close by each of us expressing a blessing to the rest of the group so we can each bring the light of this flame with us until we next meet.

Blessings usually begin with, “May you…” As we go around the zoom boxes, each person will give a “May you” blessing to our group, and then call on someone else to go next.

Each teen will take a turn blessing the others in the group.

Close with: May you find the courage to bring all the colors of your own light out into the world, and may you feel respected and embraced for all that you are.

Additional Resources for Reading, Reflection, Discussion

Gender Diversity in Judaism, Parts 2 and 3 by The Empress Mizrahi
Activities and Resources from the GLSEN on the Transgender Day of Visibility
Elliot Page is Ready for This Moment, published in Time Magazine on March 16, 2021, marking the first time a trans man was featured on the cover of Time.
The Trans Agenda For Liberation from the Transgender Law Center

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