Israel Approves Allowing Transgender People to Change Gender on IDs Without Surgery

Approval committee will also no longer be able to demand that transgender people start hormone replacement therapy

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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Protesters against anti-LGBTQ violence wave transgender pride flags in Tel Aviv, 2019.
Protesters against anti-LGBTQ violence wave transgender pride flags in Tel Aviv, 2019.Credit: Meged Gozani
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

The Justice Ministry has approved new rules that will make it significantly easier for transgender people to change their gender on their identity cards, even if they haven’t undergone gender reassignment surgery.

The wait time for Health Ministry approval has been cut from two years to six months. But during this time, transgender individuals will still have to a prove to a ministry committee that they are living with a different gender identity. 

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In another improvement, the committee will no longer be able to demand that transgender people start hormone replacement therapy to obtain its approval. Additionally, people will now be able to change the gender on their ID cards at age 16 rather than 18.

Until 2015, Israel permitted people to change their gender on their ID cards only after gender reassignment surgery. But following a petition by transgender women to the High Court of Justice, the state established a committee two years ago to consider requests by transgender people to alter their ID cards without an operation.

Even with the new rules, such a change will still require the committee’s approval. Over the past decade, several other countries – including Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Argentina and Pakistan – have started recognizing gender changes solely on the basis of the individual’s affidavit.

Nevertheless, the new rules will make the process significantly easier, and human rights organizations have been fighting for them for years. 

Despite specifying a wait time of six months before final approval to change their gender marker on ID cards, the new rules also allow the committee to shorten this time if it sees fit. 

Additionally, to protect the applicant’s privacy, the committee will no longer be able to ask other people about the applicant’s gender identity or make any use of the applicant’s information without their consent. Finally, the committee will have to allow an observer from an organization representing transgender people to be present at its meetings.

In a letter sent out on Tuesday, Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber wrote that the changes were made in response to complaints by transgender organizations. The government held several discussions about the issue in 2018, after which the Justice Ministry began work on preparing the new rules, in cooperation with the health, interior and finance ministries.

“This certainly doesn’t end the difficulties facing transgender people in Israel,” Zilber wrote. “The road to freedom is long. But I hope these changes will make life easier for many transgender people by removing unnecessary obstacles from their path, and thereby help to protect human rights in Israel on a salient issue of human dignity.”

She added that the ministry would be happy to help overcome additional obstacles, “out of a shared view that ‘the right to realize one’s gender identity is at the heart of a person’s right to freedom and autonomy.’”

Three organizations that promote transgender rights – Maavarim, the Aguda (Israel’s LGBT Task Force) and Project Gila – welcomed the new rules.

“Everyone is asked to show an identity card on a daily basis – at the bank, at university, when signing a contract, at the health maintenance organization, at the National Insurance Institute, on being hired for work, when buying alcohol and cigarettes and more,” they said in a joint statement. “For transgender people, anyplace they have to show an identity card is a place where they’re exposed to violence and anti-transgender discrimination. When your identity card says ‘male’ but you live as a woman, your means of identification reveals you as differently gendered and thereby exposes you to violence and discrimination.”

Nevertheless, Attorney Ido Katri, one of the founders of Project Gila, cautioned that “the new rules still severely infringe on the autonomy of body and soul, in the sense of determining for another person who they are. It’s not clear what the justification for the existence of this medical committee is, especially when we’re talking about people who don’t seek to undergo any sort of medical procedure, but are rather seeking legal recognition of their identity.”

Ella Amest, joint executive director of Maavarim, said, “any improvement in the access of people on the transgender spectrum to suitable identity documents is a significant step on the road to a better reality for us all. We’ll continue to work to simplify the process, until our right to self-determination isn’t dependent on a committee’s approval.”

Aguda CEO Ohad Hizki added that “the new rules will make things significantly easier, and we all hope additional positive steps will follow.”

The World Professional Association for Transgender Health has said that barriers to recognizing an individual’s gender identity could damage their physical and mental health.

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