This post was written by Sarah Young, a high school senior from Syracuse, New York. Sarah attended SOJOURN's educational track at the International Convention of United Synagogue Youth in Baltimore, Maryland at the end of December 2015. We're so thrilled that Sarah took what she learned in our sessions and put it into immediate action when she returned to her school at the end of winter break. Mazel tov, Sarah!
If you have no idea how many seconds you have to suggest an idea before someone loses interest, then you're just like me last week. That was before SOJOURN taught me and a large group of other USYers all about advocacy. Seven seconds, by the way, is all the time you have. Seven seconds is how long I had to convince my principal to include gender neutral bathrooms in our high school.
Walking into the first advocacy session last week with Robbie, I thought I knew how to make an argument. I do mock trial, I'm the child of my lawyer, and I love debate. What I didn't know, and what SOJOURN thankfully taught me and the others, is how to craft an argument for an authority figure, especially one who isn't keen to listen to you or respect your opinion. From my sessions at the USY convention I was prepared for the worst, questions such as "you're Jewish, do they have gender neutral bathrooms in Israel?" Yes, apparently that is an actual question that has been asked.
Luckily, my preparation for the worst wasn't put to use. My principal was excited to meet with me, and although behind on some of the terms related to gender, he was very excited to get the ball rolling with this. He told me "I want to have this done by the end of the..." and I held my breath. As a senior in high school, I could only hope that it would be completed by the end of the year so I could see what my work had led to. "...month." He finished. He was so sold on the idea of a gender neutral bathroom from my initial pitch that he didn't want to waste any more time.
He immediately set up a meeting with the head of the school's Building League of Teachers, a group of teachers and department chairs who can actually get things done, and done quickly. I was so excited.. Without SOJOURN's suggestion for a seven second long pitch - gender neutral bathrooms keep kids safe - and the information and statistics that they reminded me to use, it wouldn't have been possible. Without the advice SOJOURN had given me about how to sit, what to wear, and what to do with my hands, I doubt that my principal would have been so willing to listen, and even less willing to actually do anything. I'm grateful to be a part of a community where I not only received this "advocacy boot camp" training, but also have ties with people who are there to support and help me along the way; people who give me last minute advice and then ask how it went. I'm excited to let all of you know how the school community reacts as we transition to having a gender neutral bathroom. For now, thank you SOJOURN for the support!