Israel loves to boast to the world about its purportedly positive attitude toward the LGBT community, but there is growing evidence of the the ways in which the country in fact discriminates against members of this community. Just recently, the state reiterated its discriminatory stance on adoption and surrogacy by same-sex couples, and it now turns out that the social welfare authorities – on various pretexts relating to the best interests of the children – are barring or limiting contact by transgender parents with their children after the parents have undergone sex reassignment (Haaretz, August 11).
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There are at least 10 known cases in which parents have been limited or barred from contact with their children, but LGBT organizations and lawyers involved in the field estimate the actual number to be higher. In some of the cases, transgender parents are only allowed to see their children at “contact centers.” In other instances, the children are taken to foster care and in still others, custody of the children is granted to the other non-transgender parent.
The social welfare authorities view the homes of transgender parents as dangerous places for the children. And frequently social workers believe that it is in the best interest of the child, in cases involving separation and child-custody disputes, that the child be with the non-transgender parent. The assumption is that sex reassignment constitutes grounds to bar transgender parents’ access to their children.
Such positions reflect a discriminatory and transphobic policy. An individual’s gender identity is part of one’s self-definition, and the right to be free of discrimination in this regard is critical. This right was also recognized by Israel’s Supreme Court in a statement in a ruling (in another context) by Justice Salim Joubran in 2013:
“The very failure to recognize the individual’s gender identity, as he perceives it, is a violation of the right to equality.”Discrimination against transgender parents is just one type of discrimination that transgender individuals experience.
Another expression of this has been the state’s insistence that the gender of a transgender man who delivered a baby be temporarily recorded as female, in order to register him as the parent in the absence of a special approval procedure prior to the birth.
In broader terms, the state’s policies regarding transgender citizens require a number of changes. Many limitations are imposed on access to sex reassignment surgery for individuals interested in such operations, and that is in addition to a lengthy waiting period. The Interior Ministry also puts obstacles in the way when it comes to everything related to changes in a citizen’s gender in the population registry. The chief social worker on legal issues at Social Affairs Ministry did the right thing in stating that transgender identity does infringe on full parental rights — but that is not enough.
In light of the many cases that have been reported, the Social Affairs Ministry should make it clear to all social workers that an individual’s gender identity does not disqualify a person from being a parent. A policy of equality should be adopted on this matter and on all matters related to gender identity.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel