Last month, the office of Republican Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey temporarily removed its online form for members of the public to lodge “a complaint or concern about gender transition intervention” they may have “experienced or observed.”
Bailey had just issued an emergency rule proscribing gender affirming care in the state for minors as well as adults in Missouri, the most extreme restrictions on healthcare for transgender people in any state.
Rabbi Daniel Bogard hesitated, at first, when the Washington Blade called for his reaction. “I never know what language to use.”
As a faith leader with multi-generational ties to St. Louis and its tight-knit Jewish community who is living in the home built by his grandfather, Bogard never imagined having to consider fleeing the state.
“My parents are here. My brother is here. We desperately, desperately want to stay here,” he told the Blade.
Bogard said because his trans son is just nine, the only gender affirming care he needs is haircuts and boys’ clothes. Still, he said, “the thing I really wish people understood is that what I’m really scared of is the government coming to my door to take away my child for following the best advice of doctors and therapists and professionals.”
So, it can be hard to find the right language.
“I’m a rabbi. So, I don’t say this lightly: This is what it must have been like to be a Jew in 1930 in Europe. It doesn’t feel real, and you can’t believe that it’s actually going to get worse — that they’re going to do the things that they say they’re going to — and then it gets worse.”
Words that come closest to “accurately describing the totality of what’s being pushed in places like Missouri” — like “fascism,” for instance — are exactly those likeliest to be dismissed as hysterical, over-the-top, hyperbole, Bogard said.
Likewise with comparisons between the realities faced by trans Americans today and the treatment of European Jews leading up to the Holocaust, which can be even more difficult for some people to consider seriously on their merits.
“Look,” Bogard said, “I’m a rabbi. So, I don’t say this lightly: This is what it must have been like to be a Jew in 1930 in Europe. It doesn’t feel real, and you can’t believe that it’s actually going to get worse — that they’re going to do the things that they say they’re going to do — and then it gets worse.”
“People don’t get it until they see it — even talking to queer folks and trans folks living in blue enclaves and blue states, they often don’t quite understand the extent of what is happening.”
A more recent analog, Bogard said, might be “the early days of COVID” when people often tended to behave normally, treating others who stocked up on toilet paper and cleared out their desks as paranoid.
The latest move by Bailey, however, should be concerning for everyone. “He had a form to get neighbors to rat out neighbors who are supporting their kids,” Bogard said. “That should terrify anyone who cares about democracy and cares about freedom and cares about religious liberty or individual liberty.”
Trans people in the state have been scrambling. “None of us none of us know we’re hearing,” Bogard said.
“There have been rumors that lifesaving gender affirming care will be available in Illinois, which at least for St. Louis is right across the river. Then we’re hearing from folks who [are] told by these Illinois organizations that unfortunately they believe they’re not going to be able to serve Missouri residents,” Bogard said. “I want to be very careful because these are secondhand things that I’m being told, right, but that’s where people are at.”
‘We need national Democrats to stand up‘
Behind the anti-trans policies in Missouri and elsewhere in the country is “this discourse, the demonization of trans people and trans bodies,” Bogard said. The “rhetoric of otherization and rhetoric that being trans is a social contagion, a mental illness,” he said, is going to be fatal. “People are going to die because of this.”
Bogard estimates he has traveled to Jefferson City (“Jeff City”), the state capital, about a dozen times this year “to lobby and to testify and to beg.” He added, “My mom, who has taken COVID very, very seriously, and hasn’t gone out, her first time really going out in public in an unmasked place was [when] she came down to Jeff City to testify this year, to lobby.”
“My grandma, God love her, all of 87 years old, was asking me the other day about wheelchair access — because she’s worried that she wouldn’t be able to walk in the halls of the Capitol to come down and testify for her great-grandson,” Bogard said.
Asked whether he believes the urgency is understood by elected Democrats, Bogard said, “Our Democrats here in Missouri have no power, I mean none, [but] they fight with every ounce they have for our kids.”
There are “so many incredibly heroic Democratic lawmakers who know this is true public service, people who get paid $29,000” per year to be a state representative even though they have no power, Bogard said. He noted his son has a photo of Missouri’s lone openly LGBTQ state senator, Greg Razer, on his desk.
National Democrats, by contrast, often fail to fully understand that protecting trans rights is “the fight of our generation,” more consequential than a wedge issue exploited by Republicans to distract from meaningful policy debate, Bogard said.
The GOP “has chosen the bodies of trans kids to be the front for their war on democracy,” he said, “And we need national Democrats to stand up and do everything that they can.”
‘For as long as there have been Jews, there have always been trans Jews’
“It’s one of the beautiful parts about being a rabbi,” Bogard told the Blade, “is I can see that there are thousands of years of stories about trans Jews — there have always been trans Jews, because as long as there have been Jews there have been trans Jews because being trans is just another way of being human.”
“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.” https://t.co/qMkvd1XFb4
— Rabbi Daniel Bogard (@RavBogard) April 28, 2023
“We have incredible stories from the 1800s of Jews transitioning and being like, radically accepted in the shtetl in Ukraine,” Bogard said. “In 1977, the largest movement in American Judaism came out and endorsed rabbis officiating marriages that involve a trans person.”
He added that the Reform Movement came out in support of officiated conversions of trans people in 1990, and then published “an incredible position paper on human dignity of trans folks” in 2015 that would be “the best religious statement” on the matter if not for the new one released in 2023 “which goes 10 steps further.”
Bogard said anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ hate is closely linked to anti-Semitism. “When it comes to Jeff City, all of the legislators and all of the people testifying in favor of these bills are coming from deeply white Christian nationalist” enclaves.
He added that most — or close to the majority — of those “who are standing up for trans kids in our state capitol are Jews.” So much so that he said St. Louis Episcopal Priest Mike Angell, struck by how many Jewish people were rallied in support of trans Missourians, called on his fellow Christians to “show up.”