“It’s like a stain from the past, a wound, a symbol of what I once was,” says Nofar Morali, 22, a transgender woman from Tel Aviv about how she feels when she sees her old name in the attachment of her national ID.
The attachment, sefah in Hebrew, is a paper form that is issued with the plastic ID and contains information such as their children, spouse and previous names, if any. By law, previous names can only be removed from the document after seven years following a name change. “It feels like a mark I’m stuck with for seven years,” Morali tells Haaretz.
This month she asked the High Court of Justice to order the law amended so that she and other transgender people can live their lives without a constant reminder of the sex, and name, assigned to them at birth.
Gender transition involves a change in the person’s social presentation and can involve physical changes. Choosing a name that reflects their chosen gender identity can be an important part of this process. Under Israel’s Names Law, which was passed in 1956, individuals may change their first or last names every seven years, or more frequently with permission from the Interior Ministry, but for the first seven years after a change the previous name must remain on the ID’s attachment.
Officials in the ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority are required to enforce the rule regarding IDs, but they have the authority to remove old names from passports if requested.
The seven-year rule bothers many transgender people, who must often show the sefah to employers, police officers and others, forcing them to disclose their past against their will.
Morali’s current name appears on her ID and passport, but the Interior Ministry has refused her repeated requests to remove her birth name from the attachment, saying it was required by law.
Morali received a new ID in 2018, and was listed as female in the population registry that year. She says that she struggled from a young age to exercise her right to transition and to feel whole within herself. But once she did, she says, she felt there was one more thing left to do.
“We have a lot to deal with during the process – we have a whole life to take care of. I simply reached the point in the process where I had finished everything I wanted to do and decided to bring the issue of my name forward one step,” she says.
Her lawyers, Ayelet Halberstadt and Reut Michaeli of the Justice Ministry’s legal aid office, and Hagai Kalai, who specializes in cases involving the LGBTQ community, submitted the High Court petition. In it, they argue that the rules were not designed to take into account name changes in the wake of gender transition.
“Certainly it was not the intention of the legislator to cause such grave harm to rights protected by the constitution and to force transgender people out of the closet. Under the circumstances, in which the rule in the majority of cases causes no problem but whose application in exceptional and unusual circumstances causes a serious violation of constitutional rights, a legal remedy must be given,” the petition states.
Morali argues in the petition that the regulation violates her rights to personal autonomy and privacy as well as the right to equality and personal security. She is not the only transgender Israeli who feels this way. Or Aviv, 21, a friend who is a transwoman from Hadera, says she has the same problem.
“I had a name that was really not appropriate for me – very male and old-fashioned. I had to change it as quickly as possible, even before I began to transition,” she says.
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“I worked in a place where if they asked me to, I had to answer the telephone. I would answer in a woman’s voice, but with my old name. It wasn’t comfortable,” she says. “I didn’t know it would remain there in my papers. Only later did I discover that my old name was there. I was a little in shock. They told me that that’s the way it has to be, so I couldn’t change my identity completely.”
Perhaps it seems petty. The name is changed in her ID – the old one is only on the attachment – but Aviv says it bothers her. “I did so many things in order to feel better about myself. I made a huge effort, internally and externally. I spent a lot of money. So I want it to be final, that I won’t be outed in an embarrassing situation,” she says. “My old name hasn’t been removed because of a minor rule designed for special cases where people shouldn’t be allowed to erase their old name. We’re not one of those specific cases. Thousands of transgender people shouldn’t be suffering because of an obsolete law,” Aviv says.
Morali agrees. “If I have to give someone my ID as a guarantee” – for example, to obtain a visitor pass in a secure facility – “I don’t want anyone to see my old name. I didn’t commit a crime. It hurts me personally all the gender dysphoria that I had to go through. As a transwoman, I know subconsciously that an official document with my old name leaves me no way to escape from it.”
In a written response, the Population and Immigration Authority said the Names Law requires the previous name to “appear in parentheses” on an identity document for seven years after the change and does not allow for flexibility, in contrast to passports, “where authority personnel have discretion on the matter and most requests are honored.”