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Back to Basics in Atlanta!


By | Straightlaced

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As part of our swing through the South, 35 professionals serving the Jewish community in Atlanta gathered with us to watch portions of Straightlaced – How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up and to learn about how to create more inclusive and welcoming communities for young people of all genders. Some of the attendees were already familiar with the concepts presented, but for many of them, the idea that rigid gender boxes are harmful and limiting for all people – whether they fit in the gender boxes or not – was new.

To best meet the needs of the audience, my co-facilitator, Serian Strauss, and I went back to basics – establishing common vocabulary. We defined the difference between “sex” and “gender” – sex as assigned to each of us at birth and the gender identity that we develop over a lifetime that is greatly impacted by society. Many participants were intrigued by the idea that these two may or may not be congruent, and in different ways for each of us.

We led the “Act Like a Boy” activity from the Respect for All Project curriculum guides to raise awareness about the ways that young people are often confined by gender boxes. The audience identified the ways that boys are expected to be “bread-winners,” “be tough,” and “be handy.” We then explored what names boys are called if they don’t fit in the box. Some audience members were accustomed to these words and were moved to learn how harmful the words can be, and how oppressive they are for all boys – not just the ones that don’t conform to gender norms.

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All of the participants explored how they themselves do and don’t fit gender norms and began to consider how to break down the gender binary that is reinforced over and over for kids in their preschool programs, sports programs and faith contexts. One preschool administrator realized that her school’s intake forms only include marital status checkboxes for heterosexual parents, and strategized with us about how to improve her forms. We explored the purpose of the intake form: it was a way for teachers to understand and know about the home life of their students, and suggested an open-ended question – such as “Please share with us who lives in your household,” “Who is in your family?” and “Is there anything else you would like us to know about your family?” She concluded that these kinds of questions would even better serve the intended purpose of the forms!

As we find time and again, inclusion benefits a wider range of people than might be originally expected. In this case, making space for lesbian and gay headed families, also addresses the needs of other family forms – such as a divorced mother. How much better it would be for her to be able to describe her family in positive terms, instead of having to check the “Divorced” box as a way of describing herself, right at the start of her child’s preschool experience! The participants also asked questions about how to address the values of more conservative people of faith who maintain a stricter division between the sexes. These questions were handled by staff from our partner organization SOJOURN (Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity) Rebecca Stapel-Wax and Robbie Medwed, who are working to build bridges and guide Jewish communities towards a more open and inclusive approach.

This event was part of a series of programs that GroundSpark organized with SOJOURN, with funding from the Amy Mandel and Katina Rodis Fund and our other generous supporters.

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