Local teen initiates motion for historic BBYO change.
BBYO, a pluralistic Jewish youth group, elected to create an inclusive environment for all teens, regardless of their gender identity, when the organizations teen leadership passed a motion on Aug. 14 at the group's International August Executives Conference in Waynesboro, Pa. The motion stated: "Young people who genuinely identify as Jewish - no matter their gender identity - are given full eligibility to join and afforded full status as members of the Grand Order of the Aleph Zadik Aleph (AZA) and the International Order of the B'nai B'rith Girls (BBG) in any matter, business or forum."
The idea for this pivotal change all started with a Michigan teen, who felt the need to encourage acceptance and progression among his peers, locally and internationally. Ethan Lis, 17, of Bloomfield Hills wrote the motion after being inspired at BBYO s International Leadership Training Conference (ILTC) this summer. Lis is a member of Fisher AZA and currently serves as BBYO Michigan Regions regional shaliach (vice president of Jewish heritage, community service and social action).
As a result of Lis' action, the teen leadership of AZA amended its constitution to widen the definition of an eligible member of BBYO to any high school age teen who identifies as Jewish, based on their own definition of their gender. The teen leaders of BBG immediately adopted the amendment for their own constitution. BBYO will now further review Ethan Lis policies to see what changes might need to be made.
"There are many people in the world who don't identify within the gender binary, including several BBYO teens I know personally," said Lis, son of Lance Lis and Karen Grossberg.
"I feel it is necessary to afford these teens the same opportunity as teens who identify within the traditional gender binary, in the name of general equality. This motion puts our organization at the forefront of an important movement of social change."
Word spread that Lis was working on a motion to promote gender inclusion in BBYO, and he was contacted by professionals at BBYO's International Office in Washington, D.C. Staff supported his decision and encouraged him to share his idea with other teens.
"I shared my motion in Facebook groups with other BBYO teens I met at past training conferences, including Chapter Leadership Training Conference (CLTC) and International Convention (IC)."
Several teens contacted Lis and offered to second the motion and support him through the process, which eventually led to the motion being presented at the International August Executives Conference.
The motion passed unanimously.
"After the decision was made, we realized we made history," said Seth Betman, 16, who currently serves as regional president of BBYO Michigan Region and was in attendance at the conference. "This was a moment and a meeting none of us would ever forget, but we also realized I that this was just the beginning for so many progressive I changes to support gender inclusion."
Betman also shared how excited he was that the motion was created by one of his chapter members from Michigan.
Since the motion passed last week, thousands of teens have shared their support on social media, and the conversation continues to grow.
"I am proud to be a catalyst for such unwavering, unanimous support for an under-represented population," Lis said.
"This change opens so many doors, and also provides a source of education for teens about what gender identity means," said Katie Fried, regional director of BBYO Michigan Region. "Gender identity is self defined, and should Katie Fried not be disputed based on another's opinion. The fact that Ethan recognizes this at a young age and took action to make a change, showing so much courage along the way, is truly remarkable and inspiring to all."
Lis is currently in the process of preparing a second motion that will amend the language in membership manuals and other BBYO resources to continue to create a more gender inclusive organization. He plans to present this motion in February 2016 to BBYO's International Executive Board in advance of IC, and hopes to play a role in furthering BBYO as an accepting environment that promotes equality for all teens.