Observing Transgender Day of Remembrance

Surat-Shaan Knan and Janet Darley

19 November 2015

Surat-Shaan Knan, a UK trans activist and founder of Liberal Judaism’s pioneering project Twilight People, urges rabbis and community leaders to include Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) observance in their Shabbat services. The TDoR is commemorated annually on 20 November,

Surat-Shaan appeals to rabbis and service-leaders to light Jahrzeit candles and read out the Twilight People prayer by Rabbi Reuben Zellman, who was the first out transgender rabbinic student in the US Reform movement a dozen years ago.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance was founded in 1998 in the USA. It is a day to globally memorialize those who have been murdered as a result of transphobia (the hatred or fear of transgender and gender non-conforming people) and to bring attention to the continued violence endured by the transgender community.

Knan stresses that TDoR is a community matter: “Some people may say ‘why would I have to observe such a day – I don’t know any transgender people, or I – or anyone else I know – would never hurt anyone transgender?’

‘While this may be true, I challenge us all to ask ourselves: What else can we take away from this day? How can I help make our communities welcoming and safe for everyone? How can we open our doors so that the most marginalised individuals can be brought closer to Judaism, and most of all to their authentic selves?’

Earlier this month, at the movement’s Biennial Conference in Orlando, Florida, America’s Union for Reform Judaism passed the most far-reaching resolution on transgender rights of any major religious organisation. It calls for its congregations and camps to have gender-neutral bathrooms, encourages gender-neutral language, suggests training on gender issues for religious school staff and encourages advocating on behalf of the transgender community.

The resolution is coming in a year when transgender issues have never been more visible, thanks to celebrities such as Caitlyn Jenner.

In the UK, Stonewall, one of the largest Gay and Lesbian rights lobbying organisations, declared in February 2015 that it would extend its remit to campaign for trans equality. This milestone was followed by the appointment of a Stonewall Trans Advisory Group. The group will support the integration of trans equality across all of Stonewall’s campaigns and programmes.

Following an extensive application and recruitment process Liberal Judaism’s leading transgender campaigner Surat–Shaan Knan was selected as a member of this new Trans Advisory Group.

Surat-Shaan added: “I feel truly blessed. Liberal Judaism’s pioneering oral history initiative Twilight People is the first ever heritage project to explore faith and gender identity. It is an honour to see that recognised. I am keen to represent the voice of trans people of faith. Stonewall are really highlighting the diversity of voices within the trans community – and I am looking forward to working towards acknowledging our multiple layers of identity.”

The Twilight People project is hosting this year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance interfaith service. For the first time, thanks to Surat-Shaan’s efforts, this ceremony, which welcomes all trans people of faith and allies, is as part of the main event taking place at a London University. A TDoR memorial includes typically a reading of the names of those who lost their lives during the previous year, and other actions, such as candle-lighting, speeches, and film screenings.

 

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