This CRC rabbi won’t stop fighting for his trans child

“When the government’s coming after your kid, you don’t get to quit,” says Rabbi Daniel Bogard.


Photograph courtesy of Rabbi Daniel Bogard

By Lior Zaltzman, Kveller

When I called Rabbi Daniel Bogard at his home in St. Louis, Missouri last Saturday night, I apologized for sounding so tired. My toddler, I explained, is vehemently opposed to the idea of sleep, shrieking endlessly throughout all hours of the night.

In exchange, he tells me what keeps him and his wife, a fellow rabbi, up at night: his state government coming to take his transgender child away.

“We’re up at night talking about what do we do if DCFS knocks. What’s our plan? How do we go and when do we go? What is the moment that we flee?” His voice is brimming with emotion. “It really kind of feels like the early days of COVID, where things that feel like overreactions today become tomorrow’s reality.”

Imagine that: a Jewish parent, in the United States, in 2023, worried that his government will come and tear his family apart.

Earlier this month, Missouri AG Andrew Bailey announced a temporary order banning gender-affirming care for trans individuals. The order, which was supposed to go into effect this week, but has been blocked by a Missouri judge, would “make Missouri the first state in the country to restrict gender-transitioning care for all ages,” according to the New York Times.

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“The Attorney General is taking names, and asking neighbors to report on neighbors,” Bogard tells me, referring to Bailey’s “transgender concern form,” which was taken down after it was spammed with fake entries, including copies of the “Bee Movie” script (I have to take a moment to appreciate that Jerry Seinfeld was drafted as an unwitting ally in this fight).

While Bogard’s son is not currently undergoing any gender-affirming care, for the leader of St. Louis Central Reform Congregation, it’s clear that things are about to get a lot worse for trans individuals in states like his. “The totality of what our legislature is pushing is the total erasure and elimination of trans people from public life in Missouri.”

Rabbi Bogard is bone, bone tired. For months, he’s been going to his state’s capital to speak on behalf of his child and children like him — sometimes accompanied by his son. “When the government’s coming after your kid, you don’t get to quit,” Bogard explains.

Jewish activists have put themselves at the forefront of this fight. One of his closest allies is Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, herself the parent of a trans child and an Orthodox rabbi.

On the floor and stairs of the Capitol building, these activists are tirelessly fighting a fight that many parents of trans children and trans adults are waging across the country in other states like Tennessee and Texas. It’s a fight to be left alone, to be allowed to thrive in the places they call home.

Missouri has always been Bogard’s home. While he left the state for schooling, he is the rabbi of his childhood congregation, now raising his three children in the house that he grew up in — a house built by his grandfather, literally. As we talk, he nervously paces into his child’s bedroom — the same room he grew up in.

Now, like Jews have done, unfortunately, for time immemorial, he has to think about possible exit plans. He’s torn between planning the logistics of taking his kids to soccer practice and figuring out how fast and where he can pick up his family and go to in case his state goes after him for allowing his child to be who he is — a decision affirmed by experts and health professionals around the world and one that most Americans also support.

It’s also a decision affirmed by everyone around Bogard — his family, his Jewish community (St. Louis has a community of about 60,000 Jews, with a rich Jewish history). His mother has gone to the Capitol to attest on behalf of her grandson, even when she was scared of COVID. Even his 87-year-old grandmother has offered to come with him. “She wanted to know how much walking would be involved, and how much standing would be involved, but she wants to come fight for her great-grandson.”

For Jews like me living in big coastal cities and blue states, reading this story might feel like a distant, hard-to-digest nightmare. But the reality the rabbi is currently experiencing in his home state is not an isolated occurrence.

In 2023, across 49 states, more than 500 anti-trans bills have been proposed. Much of that anti-trans legislation centers children — be it about bathrooms and drag brunches, or direct attacks on trans kids looking for gender-affirming care, or just to play sports on the teams that match up with their gender. So far this year, 13 states have enacted partial or full bans for gender-affirming care for trans kids, the majority of them enacted just this month.

Bogard fears that things will get even scarier, with trans and reproductive rights becoming a focal point of the 2024 presidential election. He feels that trans people in this country and their families must feel like what Jews have felt in 1930 Germany. Instinctively, we both flinch at the comparison. It’s a concerning one to make, but not because it doesn’t feel true.

“This is not the Holocaust that we’re experiencing right now,” he further explains. “It’s not 1935 [when the Nuremberg Laws were enacted]. But every 1935 began with 1930. Not every 1930 turns into a 1935, but that’s where we’re at in Missouri right now.”

“I don’t know the words to use,” Bogard adds. “If I call it fascism, people are going to roll their eyes. And if I call it terrorism, people are going to roll their eyes. And if I call it ethnic cleansing, people are going to roll their eyes. But I don’t know the words to use because the words that are less intense than those words are not where we’re at.”


Bogard has been going to Jefferson City as an activist for years, but recently he has noticed the tides shifting. In earlier years, when he came to lobby about issues like gun control, he felt from his Republican lawmakers a kind of philo-semitism many Jews who live in states like his are intimately familiar with. But, he tells me, “as our lawmakers begin to understand who American Jews really are, and what our values really are, you can see them becoming antisemitic in front of your eyes.”

Bogard has seen what he calls “the violent intersection of antisemitism and LGBTQ hate rising” in the way his lawmakers speak about and treat Jewish activists like him. He also sees the connection between the fight for trans rights and reproductive justice as an attempt by white Christian men to control bodies and wombs. “It’s all misogyny, all the way down.”

“We’re doing everything we can to fight for the future that our kid and every kid deserves, and sometimes it feels like we’re putting a target on our back,” Bogard tells me. He’s used to, though not inured to, death threats from white nationalists and neo-Nazis for his activism. But feeling like he’s in the sight of his state’s government “is a whole other level of terrifying.”

Earlier this month, the governor of my state, New Jersey, passed a bill making it a “trans haven.” Bogard says that one way to help families like his, and individuals like his son, is to urge your state to do the same if it hasn’t yet. “Every blue state needs to pass a trans refugee and resettlement act,” he says, which would ensure that “their law enforcement agencies will not cooperate with the DCFS of red states” and that “they will not help red states tear our children from our families, but will protect them from our governments.” He also urges people in those states to “make sure that your politicians aren’t treating this like a sideshow, like a distraction.”

At the Capitol, Bogard has seen children asked about their genitals, harassed by lawmakers who inquire if their parents are grooming them — the same lawmakers who have voiced support for marrying 12-year-old girls — and finds himself having to beg for them to see his child as a human being, to see the pain that they are causing his family.

Neon (he/they), a young Jewish trans person who has testified in the Missouri capitol over four times this year, and Bogard (courtesy of Rabbi Daniel Bogard)

It’s a jarring juxtaposition to his Jewish community, who he says have been wholly accepting. Bogard is deeply comforted by the Reform movement’s resolution on the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, and says he has allies in the Conservative and Orthodox movements as well. His son’s school has also been supportive.

“We live in this oasis and feel like the war is coming down on us,” he says.

Bogard recalls, in the days before the pandemic, sitting at the Shalom Hartman Institute for a conference on gender equity, when he knew his son would soon announce his transition. Author Noam Sienna was there to talk about his book “A Rainbow Thread,” which recounts the story of Berel-Beyle, a trans man who was accepted and embraced by his Jewish community in 19th century Ukraine.

Bogard tells me he started bawling — suddenly he saw a thread tying his son to the rest of Jewish history.

There’s a beauty, he tells me now, in knowing that “for as long as there have been Jews, there have always been trans Jews. Because being trans is just another way of being human. And there will always be trans Jews as long as there are Jews.”

Last year, Bogard and some colleagues started Camp Indigo Point as a reprieve for LGBTQ youth. They had 97 campers and dozens more waitlisted — this year, there will be a total of 300 kids attending the camp, spending two weeks in a space that is safe and joyful. “There’s nothing Jewish about this camp, except for the fact that every single person who founded this camp is Jewish,” Bogard explains. “It’s just another example of the ways in which the Jewish community here really has stood up for our kids.”

What strikes me most when talking to Bogard is the awe he has for his son, the same awe so many of us have for our kids. “The reality is that being a trans kid is one of the least remarkable things about him,” Bogard says.

He tells me about the marvel of seeing him grow and watching him do things he’d never imagined — building 3D models, taking on a sports field, thoroughly enchanting everyone around him. It’s a love and sense of wonder I relate to: Seeing your child grow into themselves, you realize how little control you have over who they are. Bogard’s son gets to be who he is because he’s allowed to flourish in a loving community. It’s a reality that every trans person deserves.

All Bogard asks is to enshrine, and protect, that reality for his family, and for children and adults across the nation.