Spirit of Inclusion for Transgender Students Prevails

Amid the national debate over transgender rights and the use of school bathrooms, a number of local Jewish summer camps in Southern California quietly have been adjusting their policies to accommodate transgender students. The Jewish Journal spoke to four of them: Camp JCA Shalom, Malibu, Camp Alonim, Simi Valley, Camp Ramah in Ojai and Habonim Dror Camp Gilboa, Big Bear Lake.

People who are transgender typically identify with the opposite gender to their birth sex, although some feel they are neither male nor female. Just under 1 percent of teenagers — almost 150,000 youths ages 13 to 17 nationwide — are estimated to identify as transgender, according to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.

The Jewish Journal spoke to four area camps about their approach to transgender campers. All the camps said they sought to be inclusive spaces for all types of campers, although some had more clearly defined policies toward transgender students than others.

Camp JCA Shalom, Malibu

Just as Abraham and Sarah welcomed people from all walks of life into their tent in the Bible, Camp JCA Shalom strives to accommodate campers and staff from a variety of backgrounds, according to camp director Joel Charnick. He calls it “Big Tent Judaism.”

“We like to find ways to be more inclusive and less exclusive,” he said. “We are welcoming of people with all different backgrounds, all different self-identities, and that includes kids and staff who are gender-questioning or transgender or gender-neutral.”

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