Atlanta's Jewish community stands against Georgia High School Association vote on transgender students in school sports

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Contact: Rose Kantorczyk, Communications Associate (communications@sojourngsd.org)

In April, Governor Kemp signed HB 1084 into law, allowing the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) to make a final decision about whether transgender youth could compete on school sports teams that align with their gender identity. Yesterday, the GHSA voted that students must compete on the sports teams matching the gender on their birth certificate, rather than the teams that align with their identity. On behalf of the Jewish community of Atlanta, we take a strong stance against this policy change.

School sports are a great source of value for our youth. Sports participation has both physical and mental health benefits, and teaches students perseverance, self-respect, and the value of teamwork. Students on sports teams have the opportunity to practice working hard towards their goals, and often form strong bonds with others while doing so. Participation in school sports can create a sense of accomplishment, of belonging, and of being a part of something bigger than yourself. As Jews, we know the value of feeling at home in a close-knit community.

Transgender students - like all students - thrive when they are treated with kavod, or respect. And exclusion, just as it would for any student, takes its toll. Inclusive school policies for transgender youth are associated with higher grades, lower rates of depressive symptoms, and lower suicide risk. In fact, according to a survey by the CDC, transgender students in states with fully inclusive athletic policies were 14 percentage points less likely to have considered suicide.

Judaism teaches us that our highest priority, which takes precedence over any other commandment, is to save a life. For us, the Jewish community of Georgia, that includes supporting policies that allow transgender Georgians to live and thrive as themselves, including on the sports field. Rejecting transgender students from sports teams fundamentally goes against the tenet of Judaism to protect others from harm.

We believe that every person is created b’tzelem elohim, in the image of God. That includes each and every member of the LGBTQ+ community, and informs our obligation to pursue justice and celebrate gender and sexual diversity. LGBTQ+ individuals should never be discriminated against, whether in housing, healthcare, or on the sports field.

We condemn this decision by the Georgia High School Association, and we respectfully request that they reconsider their decision. We also encourage all Georgians to use our ongoing primary elections to vote for state and federal candidates who are committed to the wellbeing of transgender youth.

Signed,

Rebecca Stapel-Wax, SOJOURN
Rabbi Brad Levenberg, Temple Sinai Atlanta
Rabbi Alexandria Shuval-Weiner, Temple Beth Tikvah
Rabbi Malka Packer-Monroe, 18Doors
Rabbi Rachael Klein-Miller, Temple Emanu-El
Rabbi Max Miller, Temple Emanu-El
Rabbi Peter Berg, The Temple
Rabbi Lauren Henderson
Rabbi Hillel Konigsburg
Rabbi Dayle Friedman, Congregation Bet Haverim
Greg Lawrence, Executive Director, Congregation Bet Haverim
Congregation Etz Chaim, Marietta, GA
Allison Padilla-Goodman, ADL Southeast
Billy Planer, Etgar 36
Jeff Willard, Tzedek Georgia
Leslie Anderson, Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta

Advocacy Organizations Respond to Homophobic
Events in Athens Elementary School, Call for Swift Action

Athens, GA (January 27, 2022) - Georgia Equality, ADL (Anti-Defamation League) Southeast, and SOJOURN were troubled to learn of reports from parents of students at Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary School in Athens, GA this week indicating that a piece of student artwork containing the phrase “Gay is OK” was removed from a classroom display after a school administrator likened it to displaying a Nazi flag.

Let us say plainly, we condemn any connection between a Pride flag and a swastika - one symbolizes love and connection; the other symbolizes hate and genocide. They should never be treated with any kind of equal standing and it is egregious and unacceptable for any educator to make such a statement.

We have heard from LGBTQ folks in Athens directly, and through the media on this, and their message is clear– there are LGBTQ+ kids and families in this school and all schools. Seeing a statement of “Gay is Good” as controversial is caving into one person's bias to shame and stigmatizes entire groups of valued members of this learning community.

Joint statement

We commend the Acting Superintendent’s condemnation of comparing the art to Nazi symbolism, but want to acknowledge that he does not address why this student artwork was taken down in the first place nor does he call for its return. Both of these actions are critical steps toward reconciliation here. Our organizations join those locally in Athens to echo their calls for continued transparency as the Board continues its investigation into this matter, and for those who are deemed to have been responsible for this, we call for real consequences. 

“It is imperative that educators take care to avoid directly comparing the Holocaust to contemporary issues, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances,” said Allison Padilla-Goodman, ADL Southern Division Vice President. “To remove a flag that celebrates inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community and compare it to Nazi symbolism not only inflicts severe pain on those who should feel welcome, but also cheapens the memory of millions who were killed by the Nazis.”

“Full and meaningful inclusion of LGBTQ students in their schools is critical, and yet under attack in Georgia. From artwork in Athens to attempts to ban LGBTQ inclusive materials from school libraries in the General Assembly, these anti-LGBTQ efforts must be stopped” said Jeff Graham, executive director at Georgia Equality. “LGBTQ students, the children of same-sex parents and kids with beloved LGBTQ family members have just as much right to see themselves and their families reflected in the classroom, the library, and on the field of play as other students do.” 

“We believe strongly that Judaism supports and celebrates gender and sexual diversity, so to see those values compared to Nazi ideology is jarring,” said Rebecca Stapel-Wax, Executive Director of SOJOURN: Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity. “Statements and symbols of support for gender and sexually diverse individuals are not oppressive or hateful; they are necessary, especially in learning environments, to ensure that children feel comfortable showing up as exactly who they are.”

ABOUT

Founded in 1995, Georgia Equality is the state’s largest advocacy organization working to advance fairness, safety, and opportunity for Georgia’s LGBTQ communities and our allies.

ADL is a leading anti-hate organization that was founded in 1913 in response to an escalating climate of antisemitism and bigotry. Today, ADL is the first call when acts of antisemitism occur and continues to fight all forms of hate. A global leader in exposing extremism, delivering anti-bias education and fighting hate online, ADL’s ultimate goal is a world in which no group or individual suffers from bias, discrimination or hate.

SOJOURN: Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity empowers communities to advance and celebrate gender and sexual diversity across the South, inspired by values of Jewish identity, education, and community. 

Advocacy : Activism & Tikkun Olam to Increase the Jewish Community’s Knowledge of the Impact of Legislation

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Legislatures in many southern states have debated multiple anti-LGBT (Religious “Freedom”) bills in the last six years. Thanks in part to SOJOURN’s coordination efforts, Atlanta’s Jewish community has been a potent voice in conversations about discrimination, and not a single local rabbi has spoken in support of the religious liberty bills.