I have been reflecting on what US Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s historic speech on having transgender people’s back for our right to pee (and to be) means to me.
In 2005 I was a fourth year rabbinical student a few months away from coming out as trans. I decided to do my fourth year sermon on transgender rights focusing on bathroom harassment issues. My homiletics teacher at the time rejected my first draft as being on an issue that was too “obscure” and “frightening”, and that it dealt with such a tiny percentage of the population that it was largely “irrelevant” for congregational life. So, in order to get a passing grade, I made the sermon not just about trans people. I told stories about a cisgender woman flight attendant who was fired for not wearing make-up and little boys beaten up for being sissies, and slowly backed into trans issues gently.
I tell this story not to demonize this teacher. I think he was doing his job of teaching me how to reach mainstream congregations across the country in 2005. And it worked. Using that approach for the next decade, I was able to speak to a much wider percentage of the Reform Movement, than if I hadn’t broadened my voice to help people find their empathy.
A lot has changed for both me as a transgender rabbi and the world in the last 11 years. And yet a lot hasn’t. I still get stared at in most bathrooms that I go into and sometimes it gets scary. However, after Lynch’s speech, one thing is certain — no young rabbi (or leader of any sort) in the US on the eve of coming out as transgender and just beginning to learn how to tell their story, will be told that it is “obscure” or “irrelevant.”
ETA: They may still hate us obviously but they can’t say we don’t exist or are too obscure or irrelevant to even talk about.
Elliot Kukla serves the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center, and is the first openly transgender person to be ordained by HUC-JIR.