Israel Recognizes Sex Changes Without Operation

It will now be possible to change the gender designation on one's identity card without having sex reassignment surgery.

Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel
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Participants wave Israeli's flags during the annual gay pride parade in Tel Aviv, June 13, 2014.
Participants wave Israeli's flags during the annual gay pride parade in Tel Aviv, June 13, 2014. Credit: AFP
Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel

The State Prosecution announced last week that it will now be possible to change the gender designation on one’s identity card without actually having a sex-change operation.

The response was given to a petition filed with the High Court of Justice by two transgender women against the Interior Ministry’s demand that they undergo sex-change surgery as a condition for altering the gender on their identity cards from male to female. Both were allowed to change their names on their identity cards, but not their gender designation.

This response is the result of a meeting on the issue held by Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber attended by Interior Ministry, Health Ministry and Justice Ministry officials. The Health Ministry officials explained that other countries have recognized professional criteria for determining that a person has changed his gender even without sex-change surgery. It was therefore decided to change the existing Interior Ministry procedure.

Under the new procedure, the existing Health Ministry committee that approves sex-change operations will set the criteria for determining a non-surgical sex change and examine the changes an applicant has undergone without the surgery. Certification by the sex-change committee will be sufficient for changing one’s designation in the population registry.

The two women filed the petition together with Nora Greenberg, who previously headed the Aguda (The Israeli National LGBT Task Force), and with the help of the Human Rights Clinic at the Tel Aviv University Law School, and .

One of the petitioners is Ronit Liran Shaked, a lawyer who was born male. Since a young age she felt like a girl, but up until two years ago she lived as a man, and was married to a woman. The other woman served until recently as an Israel Defense Forces soldier doing compulsory service. During her service she began the process of turning from a man into a woman, which caused difficulties because her service required sharing living quarters with men. But the IDF agreed to recognize her as a woman to some extent, approved the relevant hormonal treatments, allowed her to grow her hair and wear a female soldier’s uniform, and her commanders addressed her in the feminine.

The two argued in the petition that they were not interested in sex reassignment surgery, and that making this a prerequisite is unreasonable.

Ronit Liran Shaked photo by: Tomer Apelbaum

“The Interior Ministry position that there must be a correlation between the penis of the petitioners and their gender identity rests on an unfounded and outdated misconception,” said the petition, filed by legal clinic attorney Hisham Shabita.

The petition compared the legal situation in Israel to that of other countries. In countries such as Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, Austria, Germany, Finland, Switzerland (in the province of Zurich only), Sweden, Canada, New Zealand, and several U.S. states, one can change a gender designation on the basis of a declaration by a doctor or social worker that the applicant indeed identifies as the opposite sex.

In 2011, the German Constitutional Court abolished the legal requirement of surgery as a condition for changing one’s gender registration. The court ruled that the requirement was unreasonable, unnecessary and disproportionately affects fundamental rights such as the right to health and bodily integrity.

U.S. states that do not require a surgical procedure include Alaska, Arizona, New Jersey, New York and the District of Columbia. In June 2010, the U.S. State Department announced that surgery would no longer be required to change the gender on one’s passport, and that a physician’s declaration would suffice.

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