Let’s stand up and support transgender youth in Missouri

Maharat Rori Picker Neiss (left) is executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis. Rabbi Daniel Bogard is a member of the rabbinical team at Central Reform Congregation. 

BY MAHARAT RORI PICKER NEISS AND RABBI DANIEL BOGARD

We broke so many rules that day. 

It had been nearly a full year since COVID-19 pushed us to shut everything down. Our services went virtual, our coffee meetings became phone calls, our classes became Zooms. While we recognize that for many people in our world, remaining at home was not a viable long-term option, we both were fortunate to be in jobs where we could transition into an online space. For our own safety, for the safety of all those in our region, we stayed home. We stayed away from family, did not enter another home, avoided public events and used curbside pickup for all of our grocery needs. 

On that Wednesday we broke every COVID rule we had followed for a year and put our lives — and the lives of all those around us — at risk by spending hours upon hours in crowded rooms in which a significant number of the people present were unmasked and not socially distancing. 

We risked our health and safety to walk into the Missouri State Capitol because the Missouri legislature wants to risk the health and safety of our transgender youth by restricting their access to healthcare and banning their participation in sports.  

House Bill 33 and Senate Bill 442 seek to make it a felony to give gender affirming treatments to youth under the age of 18. The sponsors of these bills want to argue that they are doing this to protect our children. They argue that those under the age of 18 are too young to make life-changing decisions for themselves and that this legislation would prevent them from going down a path that they would later regret and cannot reverse. 

Yet, the treatment that is being banned is precisely a treatment that would allow trans youth to postpone any body-changing surgeries. Children who identify as trans before puberty typically take hormones known as puberty blockers that prevent the onset of puberty. Girls do not grow facial hair; boys do not grow breasts. This prevents children from having to live in a body that they know does not match their identity until they are old enough to take the hormones of the gender to which they identify, should they choose to still move forward. Moreover, in Missouri a child is not able to access these hormone treatments without consultation and consent from a qualified physician, both parents, and a therapist. 

House Joint Resolution 53 would create a constitutional amendment to the Missouri State Constitution, which would state that youth are required to play sports according to the sex assigned to them at birth, effectively banning transgender youth from participating. The sponsors of this bill argue that they are protecting women and girls from playing on teams with trans girls who would have an unfair advantage. Yet there have been no proven instances of transgender girls consistently outperforming their teammates. Additionally, the Missouri State High School Activities Association already has established guidelines to determine at what stage of transition athletes are able to play on which team. This bill is a solution in search of a problem that seeks to legalize anti-trans discrimination by writing it directly into our constitution. 

As if it were not painful enough to have to see these bills get filed onto the record, the hearings on the bills were excruciating. While the bill sponsors are allowed time to present the bills and then to be questioned and cross-examined by their colleagues, most witnesses are restricted to only two minutes. 

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For many in the room, that meant waking up at 4:30 in the morning and driving upwards of two hours to sit in a room with masked and unmasked people — including our elected officials — listening silently to testimony or cross examination asserting offensive and dangerous falsehoods, including that gender-affirming care is not effective, that the suicide rate for trans teens is the same after gender-affirming care as it is before, that children identify as trans because they do not bond with the parent of the same sex as the one they are assigned at birth, and that parents brainwash their children to convince them they are transgender. 

The heroes in the room were the trans youth who showed up to testify and the fierce parents fighting on behalf of their children. They took their two minutes with passion and with a bold vulnerability. One girl, only 9 years old, held back tears as she recalled asking her mother one day, “Do people really jump out of windows because people do not believe them when they say they are really a girl?” Teenagers spoke of their own suicide attempts and self-harm before they felt comfortable in their own bodies. 

It was heartbreaking to have to sit in the room and listen to these stories. It was even more heartbreaking to hear some of our elected officials question these stories. 

If you believe that transgender children have the right to be children like everyone else, that gender-affirming care is life-saving medical care, that Missouri should not legislate sports over athletic leagues, that parents and doctors can make better decisions about medical intervention than our government, please add your voice to ours. 

HJR 53 is currently in the Rules — Administrative Oversight Committee. HB 33 and SB 442 are in the House Children and Families Committee and Senate Seniors, Families, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, respectively. Call the members of these committees and call your own representative and senator and tell them you oppose these bills.  

This week we begin the holiday of Passover. It is noteworthy that the moment in which we become a nation is marked by our collective suffering. We are commanded repeatedly in the Torah to care for the stranger because we ourselves were strangers in the Land of Egypt. Numerous rituals are classified by the words zecher l’yitziyat Mitzrayim, in remembrance of the exodus from Egypt. On this holiday we recall the central tenet of our collective history, and at its core, its crucial message: One group of people with power can try to instill fear or use their platform to perpetuate hate, but another group of people responding with passion, with righteousness, and with love will always win out.

Maharat Rori Picker Neiss is executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis. Rabbi Daniel Bogard is a member of the rabbinical team at Central Reform Congregation.