Human Dignity and LGBTQ Rights: A Statement by The Jewish Theological Seminary

Today, The Jewish Theological Seminary joined an amicus brief filed in the United States Supreme Court on behalf of a diverse group of religious leaders and institutions supporting the rights of transgender students to use public school restrooms consistent with their gender identity. As the intellectual and spiritual fountainhead of Conservative Judaism and a preeminent institution of Jewish higher education in North America, JTS is compelled to act in the face of state and federal actions which undermine the Jewish principle of human dignity (kevod haberiyot) as it relates to our LGBTQ students, teachers, family members, neighbors, and all those targeted in the larger community.

As we at JTS celebrate the tenth anniversary of the decision to admit LGBTQ students  to our rabbinical and cantorial schools, we are chagrined to find that the rights and security of those community members are newly under attack from the very government entities and institutions to which we are all entitled to look for protection. We are particularly distressed that the White House and Department of Justice have reversed existing government positions that provided protections to members of the LGBTQ community, in spite of President Trump’s earlier statements supporting LGBTQ rights. A Justice Department that fails to advocate on behalf of vulnerable minorities subject to discrimination and even violence forfeits the right to be known by that name.

The administration’s adoption of the “states’ rights” mantra should be chilling to every minority group, including members of religious, racial, and ethnic minorities, which has relied on the federal government for more than half a century to secure the civil rights guaranteed by the Constitution. By attempting to delegate that responsibility to the states and leave the interpretation and enforcement of such rights to the vagaries of local passions and prejudices, the administration is forgetting the precious lessons of the civil rights era and abandoning its responsibility to afford all citizens equal protection under the law.

We applaud the efforts of the secretary of education in opposing the policy change on LGBTQ rights and protections. Reportedly, she expressed strong objections on the grounds that the policy change could further endanger gay and transgender students. We urge her to continue the fight to safeguard all of our children, demonstrating that this is not an issue of liberal versus conservative but rather of right versus wrong.

In the Jewish tradition, public humiliation is tantamount to bloodshed. Laws such as the one at issue in the Supreme Court case have the effect, if not the purpose, of publicly humiliating transgender students by refusing them access to facilities consistent with their gender identities, and singling them out for discriminatory treatment in full view of their fellow students. As members of the Jewish community, our hearts bleed with theirs from such humiliation.

We will not stand idly by the blood of our fellow human beings.

Arnold M. Eisen, Chancellor

Marc Gary, Executive Vice Chancellor and COO