Stand With Transgender Teens

Kerrick Goodman-Lucker

Kerrick Goodman-Lucker

This year for Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31, some of us felt a little too visible.

It felt like all eyes are on our trans and nonbinary teens, and not all of those looking are gazing with the compassion trans people deserve as beings created b’tzelem Elohim, in God’s image.

Across the nation, many states have already passed state laws restricting the ability of transgender people to access medical care, to transition socially, or to live publicly in safety at all. In fact, at 427 bills so far this year, anti-trans legislation makes up the largest category of bills proposed in state houses — more than infrastructure bills, budget bills, or any other category of legislation.

Why 427 similar bills all of a sudden? Why, when in affirming states across the country, trans teens have been allowed to use the right bathroom in school for years with no issues?
The movement to eliminate transgenderism — that is, to eliminate trans people from public life — is intertwined with other hate movements. Some of the same groups advocating for these legislative attacks connect their hatred of trans people with their hatred of Jews. We see that when, as ADL Center Extremism reported, transphobic attacks on medical programs that help transgender youth are accompanied by antisemitic rhetoric and conspiracy theories.

In this environment, is it any wonder that LGBTQ teens are at greater risk for mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression and suicide?

According to a February report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, 69% of LGBTQ teens felt persistent sadness, 45% considered suicide and 22% attempted suicide, compared to 6% of non-LGBTQ teens. To repeat: That means one out of every five LGBTQ teens you meet has attempted suicide, and nearly one out of every two has thought about it. This is the future the transphobic antisemitic hate movement wants for our trans teenagers — to die, preferably early, never having been able to live their truth.

Thankfully, we know that support for transgender teens’ identity and access to gender-affirming medical care are powerful protective factors against depression and suicide. For example, gender-affirming medical care was associated with a 60% drop in depression and a 73% decrease in suicidality in this study of trans and nonbinary teens reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

It is an act of pikuach nefesh, the Jewish value of saving a life, to ensure that our trans teens are fully supported in living into their full selves. Not only because the facts are that trans teens who are supported have a much lower rate of depression and suicide, but because it saves the potential person they could have been.

I believe that a sacred vision sees and loves our trans teens in all their infinite potential.
Thankfully, scores of Jewish organizations — Federations, Jewish Community Relations Councils and individual synagogues — are working to support transgender teens in the face of these difficulties, participating in the Thrive Coalition, led by Keshet and Sojourn. The Thrive coalition tracks, studies and organizes against anti-trans legislation. Working with Jewish organizations like these, I know I’m not alone in striving to help trans youth be able to live full and healthy lives.

Moving Traditions — where I work — is also helping to build an ecosystem of support for trans youth through programs such as Tzelem, a teen group curriculum for trans, nonbinary and LGBQ youth, created in partnership with Keshet. Together with our community partners, there are 20 Tzelem groups across the country serving more than 150 participants.

According to Moving Traditions’ robust outcomes data, youth in the Tzelem program learn that the Jewish community is here to support them, that they are not alone and that they are made b’tzelem Elohim.

For example, 94% of the teens in Tzelem report that in this group, they have developed a connection to a supportive community, found a place where they could be themselves and feel accepted for who they are, and felt supported in their mental, emotional, social and/or spiritual health needs by their peers. And 100% of respondents report that within Tzelem, they feel supported in their mental, emotional, social and/or spiritual health needs by their group leader, the trained adult mentor who facilitates our curriculum.

These findings align with what mental health experts identify as some of the most powerful protective factors against mental health crises, particularly for LGBTQ youth. We know from scientific studies of resilience that a robust support network and a sense of connection are powerful protective factors against mental health crises in the future.

The news about new anti-transgender laws can feel overwhelming, but the antidote to overwhelm is action. Here are three ways you can positively support trans teens on the Transgender Day of Visibility and throughout the year:

If you have trans, nonbinary or gender-questioning teens in your life, please help them get through this difficult and scary time by connecting them to resources for support, such as our Tzelem groups, which give Jewish teens a safe place to be themselves.

Educate yourself and other adults: Help connect parents and helpers of trans teens to educational resources. Moving Traditions also offers parent education programs, such as Demystifying Teen Language Around Gender. Keshet helps to train staff and leadership of synagogues and Jewish organizations on LGBTQ inclusion.

If you don’t directly know any trans teens, please consider supporting Moving Traditions and Keshet and spreading the word about our work.

It might be through you that a trans teen makes the connection that could save a life.

Kerrick Goodman-Lucker is a curriculum manager for Moving Traditions and a transgender man.


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