This week: a message from Deputy Director Nahma Nadich
Throughout my nineteen years at JCRC, I’ve had many proud moments when we’ve galvanized our community to act on our shared values of equality, justice, and freedom. We’ve participated in efforts to effect change and transform lives. Some of our campaigns have focused on improving the lives of members of our own community; others have been about standing with our brothers and sisters throughout Greater Boston and responding to their needs. One of my proudest moments was when we delivered profound benefits to members of our own community and beyond; when we were part of a successful campaign to secure one of our most fundamental rights – the freedom to marry.
In 2003, we were the first community relations council in the country to advocate for marriage equality, working closely with other Jewish organizations to leverage the influence of our community. Four years earlier, I had joined the staff of JCRC after years of practicing clinical social work in the LGBT community. The challenges my clients faced transcended their own psychological issues; they were up against a society (sometimes including their own families) that all too often denied their basic humanity. Witnessing the courage and strength they summoned to embrace their identities, build vibrant chosen families and communities, and claim the joy that was rightfully theirs, filled me with awe. And now, I had the rare honor of organizing our community to right historic wrongs and effect systemic change, putting into motion a chain of events that would eventually result in a nationwide freedom to marry.
Successful movements to effect social change – like the therapeutic work of personal change – begins with stories. We are moved to action, not by facts and figures but by accounts of lived experiences, from people we care about. In 2003, we at JCRC heard such stories, from those among us blocked from public recognition of their loving, committed relationships, and from parents concerned that their children’s dreams would never be realized. We shared those stories to change hearts and minds, and ultimately, to change the law. And we did so with the broad consensus of the Jewish community and the full support of our Council.
Years later, we heard stories of discrimination, marginalization and assaults, from transgender members of our community and the friends and family who love them. Though the experiences of the trans community is distinct and different, with appallingly high rates of violent victimization, poverty and homelessness, we understood this issue to be resonant with JCRC’s overall commitment to LGBT rights. So once again, with the full endorsement of our Council, we sprang into action. In 2011, collaborating with partners in the Jewish and broader community, we advocated for a state law to add “gender identity” to the state’s non-discrimination laws in housing, employment, and education. And we won. But we knew that more was needed. In 2016 the transgender anti-discrimination bill was signed into law, extending protections for gender identity to any place of public accommodation.
Now those hard-won freedoms are in jeopardy. In just two weeks, we in Massachusetts will be voting on a ballot initiative to protect those freedoms, the first of its kind in the nation. The stakes are high. If the campaign to stoke fears and incite bigotry succeeds, an ominous precedent will be set, likely to unleash similar measures across the country. Putting the rights of a marginalized minority to a popular vote is a dangerous path, one that will inevitably result in a tyranny of the majority.
So we are listening carefully to today’s stories, like this one from a mother fearful for her transgender son’s safety. But change is in the air and thankfully, today’s stories are not only about fear and danger. As our society evolves, we are also starting to see the possibility of a different reality for some of our younger transgender loved ones. In my own congregation, we’re learning together about becoming a truly affirming community, where we welcome our gender non-conforming children and their families and support their joyful participation in the fullness of Jewish life. Protecting the freedoms enshrined into our Commonwealth’s laws is a powerful statement to transgender people and those who love them; ensuring the vibrancy of their futures matters to us all.
How can we ensure that we protect not only our loved ones, but our most cherished values of freedom and dignity? First – vote YES on three. Even before the election, you can join voters across the Commonwealth who are pledging their vote by sending a text message with the phrase “YesOn3” to the phone number 52886, and following the link on your screen (or click here).
Second – tell all your friends to do the same. If the campaign of disinformation opposing this ballot measure gives them pause, ask them to educate themselves on the facts. And join Keshet and Freedom for All Massachusetts for Jewish Community Canvass Day for Trans Rights on Sunday November 4. You’ll be glad that you did.
A final note: Ballot question three is the only one that we at JCRC have endorsed. So we urge you to do your own research on all the others on the ballot. At a time when our democracy is fraying and voting rights are being challenged, there is no more powerful action we can take as citizens than to exercise our right to be fully informed voters.