Live-in Farm Program in Israel Rejects Transgender Man Over ‘Logistics’

Organization said man’s participation would violate other participants’ rights to privacy, while calling man’s claims of discrimination 'ridiculous'

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The man, November 17, 2019. 'It broke me. I didn’t know how to move forward.'
The man, November 17, 2019. 'It broke me. I didn’t know how to move forward.'

A nonprofit association rescinded the acceptance of a transgender man to a live-in agricultural training program because he was in the middle of the process of gender confirmation surgery but has not completed it.

The organization said the man’s participation would cause an “insurmountable logistical problem” and would violate other participants’ rights to privacy, due to the shared bedrooms and showers.

The group, Chivruta, rejected him even though he was open about his identity and the surgery during the interview process and agreed to be flexible about sleeping and shower arrangements.

“I felt they were treating me like a headache, a burden, that I’m exceptional and they want normal people who don’t cause complications,” the 27-year-old man, who is an observant Jew, said. He asked that his name not be used in this article. “They constantly said they were for the [LGBT] community and had many gays. But a trans person in mid-process was too complicated.”

Chivruta said the man’s claims of discrimination were “ridiculous,” noting that the program’s founder, who ran it for years, was a member of the LGBT community, as are dozens of alumni. “They can all attest that the organization is an exemplar with regard to accepting every person with inclusiveness, support and a warm embrace,” it added.

The man applied in August 2017 for a Chivruta program involving full-time agricultural work in the Emek Hama’ayanot Regional Council in northern Israel. At his first interview, during an open house that month, staff members asked him about sleeping and shower arrangements. He said he would accept any solution they proposed, but he would prefer to sleep in the men’s dorm.

A week later, the program coordinator told him he had been accepted and could start in September, adding that the group was “very impressed” by his character, talents and resume. The coordinator also asked if he minded sleeping in a room with other workers, and he said no.

The man happily told his family and friends he had been accepted, packed his bags and prepared to move.

But four days before he was supposed to start the program, a counselor called him and said his admission had been withdrawn.

In a recorded conversation, the counselor said, “This situation is too complicated for us, and I really apologize, because we were favorably impressed. I don’t want to get into it, but the situation is complicated, especially regarding rooms and so forth.

“This is something we’re less familiar with, you understand?” the counselor continued. “I’m really happy to have met you and my impression was really favorable, but the situation is simply complicated.”

The man told Haaretz he had decided on a sex reassignment surgery after refraining for years due to fears that if he went through with it, “nobody would accept me... and I’d end up living in the street. And here we are: I was accepted to the program, told them openly about the process I’m going through, and they told me plain and simple that I’m unsuitable because of that. It broke me. I didn’t know how to move forward.”

The man contacted the Aguda — the Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel, which helped him sue Chivruta for employment discrimination. But the suit was recently withdrawn from the Nazareth Labor Court after the court said it had no authority to hear it, since Chivruta wasn’t the man’s employer; it merely connected program participants with farmers. Under an agreement between the parties, the suit can’t be refiled in a different court.

During the legal proceedings, the law firm representing Chivruta, Harel Arnon & Co., wrote that the man’s uncompleted sex reassignment “creates an insurmountable logistics problem for my client,” due to communal living arrangements that include “open public showers (depending on gender).” Thus until the surgical process was completed, it told the man’s lawyers, Chivruta fears it “won’t be able to let him live with the other commune members without violating the right to privacy of program members, including your client.”

The man has since found work in a similar agricultural program. This, he says, proves that he could have fit into Chivruta’s program.

“I had to go work in another program, far from my house, but I had no choice,” he said. “From the moment I started there, my sex and gender has never been an issue and never bothered anyone.”

Ohad Hizki, CEO of the Aguda, said, “It’s an embarrassment that in 2019, there are organizations that let themselves discriminate against people just because of their gender identity. Israel’s trans community suffers from severe discrimination in every field, and especially in employment and the labor market. We’re a few days before the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day meant to raise awareness of violence toward the trans community, and violence still exists.”

He also urged anyone who has experienced “LGBT-phobia” to report it to the Nir Katz Center for Reporting Violence.

Chivruta said its program is “open to everyone without discrimination — men and women, religious and secular, from city, moshav or kibbutz, including members of the LGBT community. The real reasons why the young man wasn’t accepted aren’t public property. The organization has no interest in harming his privacy, and only he is entitled to make them public.

“It’s important to stress that the program found the young man an alternative placement, out of concern and great sensitivity,” it continued. “It should be pointed out that the suit the man filed against the organization was withdrawn at his own initiative, constituting a ‘full, absolute and final end’ to all his grievances. He wouldn’t have withdrawn the suit if he had thought there was anything to it, and this speaks for itself.”