SOJOURN Statement on Cobb County’s Firing of Teacher Katie Rinderle
Atlanta, Georgia - August 21, 2023 - The Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity (SOJOURN), the premiere resource for Jewish and LGBTQ+ programming, education & advocacy in the Southern U.S., strongly condemns the firing of Cobb County teacher Katie Rinderle for reading a book featuring a non-binary character to her students.
On Thursday night, the Cobb County Board of Education voted to override an initial tribunal decision and terminate Katie Rinderle for reading the book “My Shadow is Purple” to her fifth grade class. SOJOURN is extremely disturbed by the results of Rinderle’s hearing, as well as much of the religious rhetoric surrounding the vote. Speaking at the hearing, school district lawyer Sherry Culves stated that “One-sided instruction on political, religious or social beliefs does not belong in our classrooms." Cobb County parents have also told the press that it is inappropriate “for impressionable young children to be exposed to…stories about children that reject God's design for their gender."
SOJOURN hopes that the idea of “God’s design for gender” was not a consideration of the Cobb County Board of Education when voting to fire Ms. Rinderle. However, the backlash to “My Shadow is Purple”, as well as to the larger idea that gender and sexuality can exist beyond a strict binary, is often based in conservative religious thought.
Judaism has long recognized genders beyond male and female. There are 6 sexes-genders laid out by ancient rabbis in the Talmud, and many of the key figures in the Torah are often thought to have expansive genders, such as Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Rebecca. Most importantly, one of the most important Jewish teachings is pikuach nefesh - the idea that our highest priority, as Jews, is to save and affirm life. Reading materials that reflect a wide range of possible gender expressions and identities can greatly benefit the developmental health of LGBTQ+ youth, affirming their lives and, creating a sense of self-worth that can decrease suicidal ideation later in life. This, in our view, is the most important religious consideration when it comes to books like “My Shadow is Purple”.
We hope that Katie Rinderle gets the justice she deserves, that her students learn to affirm the identities and experiences of themselves and others, and that we will one day see a world where religion is no longer used to uphold anti-transgender ideas.
The Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender & Sexual Diversity (SOJOURN) is the American South's resource for Jewish & LGBTQ+ programming, education, support, and advocacy. SOJOURN’s mission is to empower communities to advance and celebrate gender and sexual diversity across the South. SOJOURN offers programs at every life cycle stage: Early Childhood (EDGE); Pre-Teens (The EveryBody Program); Teens (TumTum & Sex Ed Queeries); Adults (Welcoming Communities & GSD 101); & Parents (From Acceptance to Celebration). Visit us: www.sojourngsd.org
Rose Kantorczyk, SOJOURN
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