Panel discusses Jewish transgender people’s issues

by Kori Koch

An educational presentation and panel discussion Monday at Coffman Union addressed several issues affecting Jewish transgender people.

“Education and exposure are required to clear all misconceptions,” said a panelist and University student who asked to remain anonymous, referring to myths about transgender people.

Four panel members shared the stage during the event titled “Who is he? He is she. Me is Who: Lessons from Transgender Jews” and answered questions from audience members about being Jewish and transgender.

M.J. Gilbert, field coordinator for the University’s School of Social Work, started her transition at the University. Gilbert, a former rabbinical student and Jewish educator, began the event by posing a series of questions about what differentiates men from women. Gilbert explained how many people instantly determine gender based on outward appearances.

Beth Zemsky, panelist and former director of the University’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Programs Office, encouraged everyone to re-evaluate the meaning of gender.

“It’s a huge issue that relates to everyone, not only transgender people,” Zemsky said.

Zemsky prompted discussion and defined many components of sexuality, including biology, gender, expression, and sexual orientation and practices.

Aaron Lichtov, a panelist at the event and public speaker in the GLBT community, said he is currently repairing relationships he lost with his family members while he was transitioning.

Jenna Egge, a University junior, said, “Everyone on the panel seemed very comfortable sharing their personal experience.”

Egge and Alex Lekander, a University sophomore, attended the event for a family social science project.

Though everybody’s experience might not be the same, the University is “definitely” becoming a better place for transgender people, said the panelist and University student who wished to remain anonymous.

“People on campus are becoming more tolerant and less homophobic,” she said.

She said there are more groups helping to make transgender people visible.