Ministries Recommend Recognizing Transgender Israelis' Gender Regardless of Surgery

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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People wave transgender pride flags as they march in Tel Aviv, July 2019.
People wave transgender pride flags as they march in Tel Aviv, July 2019. Credit: Meged Gozani
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

New regulations are expected to enable transgender people to change their gender in the Population Registry and on their official ID cards even if they have not undergone gender reassignment surgery. This is one of the recommendations made by a joint committee of the Justice and Social Services Ministries, and is included in the interim report of the committee for the advancement of Israel’s transgender population. The joint committee was headed by Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber and the deputy director general of the Social Affairs Ministry, Avi Motola.

The new policy would be implemented under the auspices of the Administrator General’s office in the Justice Ministry, which would be authorized to issue transgender individuals an administrative document confirming the gender change regardless of whether they have undergone gender reassignment surgery  – which would them enable them to change their gender on other official documents.

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This is a relatively simple procedure in which a person can submit a declaration authenticated by a lawyer or a professional opinion from someone providing treatments to the Administrator General’s Office – and receive the document.

The recommendations would allow those aged 15 to 18 to file such a request, too, with the agreement of both parents. In such cases, welfare authorities may also be required to submit an opinion on the matter.

Until now, a change of gender in the Interior Ministry’s Population Registry was allowed only for transgender people who turned to the Gender Reassignment Board, a public committee in the Health Ministry, in advance of gender reassignment surgery. Now the joint committee recommends allowing transgender people who are not interested in or unable to undergo such an operation to use the new procedures. In addition, the new regulations would update the Gender Reassignment Board’s guidelines to make things easier for those requesting such surgery – including not being required to appear before the full committee, which can be embarrassing or humiliating for some of them.

Alongside the new regulations, government ministries have begun preparing to implement as different decision: On government forms, alongside the “Male or Female” choice, the possibility of choosing “Other” will be added. According to the recommendations, this question will be deleted from all forms where it is not essential. This change will be made only on forms whose phrasing is not set by law or regulations – so the authority to make this change is granted to the ministries themselves.

The committee for the advancement of transgender people in Israel was established in October by a decision of Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn and Labor and Social Services Minister Itzik Shmuli. The committee, which included representatives of the Justice, Social Services and Health ministries, held three sessions in which it heard representatives of the transgender organizations and other professionals, after which the committee formulated its report.

The committee also gave its support to a step now being considered by President Reuven Rivlin and Nissenkorn of granting pardons and erasing criminal records for transgender individuals who were convicted of various crimes because they were sex workers.

Other recommendations include assigning social workers to help the transgender community all over Israel, and for the first time within Arab communities. Today, the some 30 professionals working on the matter are concentrated mostly in the large cities. The number of social workers in such positions is also expected to grow. Another recommendation is for government ministries to appoint officials with the responsibility of coordinating the connection of every ministry with the transgender community – and to become the public address for questions on matters concerning the community. At the same time, the committee called to formulate a model for providing incentives to encourage the recruitment of transgender employees for the civil service and public sector jobs.

Motola called the committee’s recommendations “a revolution in how the country treats the transgender community. Implementing the committee’s recommendations will lead to solutions to the major challenges facing the transgender community in Israel, starting with the Population Registry through to employment and representation,” he added.

The interim report was submitted on Sunday and within a few weeks the preparation of the final report will be completed. An official on the committee told Haaretz that a large part of the recommendations are already being put into effect.

Another official said that it is doubtful whether it will be possible to advance now, or in the future, recommendations that require changes in legislation because of the opposition of the Haredi parties to such change.

Nissenkorn said the transgender community “has experienced discrimination and violence on a daily basis, just because they have chosen to be who they are. I want to thank the committee for its important activities and I plan on studying the conclusions in-depth and examining how it is possible to implement them in the best possible way.”

Shmuli said this is a transformative moment for the transgender community which has experienced such harsh exclusion and discrimination and through a brave and ground-breaking step we can change the way all of Israeli society treats it. “We will never accept a situation in which a person is discriminated against because of their identity and this step is a big step on the road to more equal society,” he said.

Elisha Alexander, the co-director of the Ma’avarim nonprofit for the Israeli transgender community, said: “The establishment of the committee and its recommendations are preliminary and welcome steps.” He said Ma’avarim hopes other ministries will follow Nissenkorn and Shmuli’s lead and the committee produced professional and in-depth work along with a coalition of transgender organizations – and did not go over their heads.

“We hope the committee’s work will not end here, but the proposed corrections will be the first sign on the road to correcting the continued injustice and exclusion the transgender community has suffered. We continue to call for the establishment of a national plan for the advancement of the transgender community,” said Alexander.

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