by David Cohen
Last Tuesday, June 22, I was invited to attend the Major’s Gay Pride Reception at the Cultural Center here in Chicago, where many members of our community showed up (as they usually do every year) to celebrate PRIDE month. The biggest surprise that evening was Daily’s announcement that Israel is, for the first time ever, marching at The Chicago Gay Pride Parade on Sunday June 27. I just stopped breathing; I just couldn’t believe the news. With tears in my eyes and mixed emotions, I was happy to hear the good news. As an Israeli-born and raised man, 35 years ago I made one of the biggest decision of my life–to leave the “Milk and Honey” homeland and to move to America, the land of “Gay freedom.” At least that’s what I though those days. Well, 35 years passed by and I’m still waiting for that “gay freedom” to happen…
The next day, while reading my emails, I came across one from Renie, the press officer at the Israeli Consulate to the Midwest. Her message confirmed the news I heard the night before: Israel is joining the parade and Pride Fest. Israel is “Out & Proud”
I moved to the USA because I thought America was more advanced than my home country of Israel. But, oh boy, was I wrong. Israel today is one of the world’s most progressive countries in terms of equality for sexual minorities. In recent years, Israel has produced more progressive legislation and court decisions regarding sexual orientation and GLBT rights than many Western countries. Israel has an active gay community, and it is by far the most tolerant Middle Eastern country towards homosexuals.
Israel is recognized as a world leader in LGBT rights. Israeli law gives equal rights to gay couples in the areas of social security and inheritance, and recognizes gay marriages performed in countries where marriages are legal as valid ones. Since 1993, the Israeli Army has banned all forms of discrimination against soldiers and officers on the basis of their sexual orientation. The first openly gay member of the Israeli Parliament was elected in 2002.
All I can say today is I was wrong. What I can say is keep your eyes and ears open and learn from my old land, the land of “milk and honey,” from Israel the country of gold.
Posted on June 11, 2010
by David Cohen
The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) sent me an email, and I need to share the news with you the readers.
Last night the US Department of State announced new guidelines for issuing passports to transgender people. Beginning today, applicants for a gender marker change on their passports will need to submit certification from a physician that they have received ‘appropriate clinical treatment’ for gender transition. Most importantly, gender reassignment surgery is not required under the new policy. The new rules will also apply to changing a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) for US citizens who were born outside of the United States. CRBA’s are the equivalent of a birth certificate.
For years, NCTE (The National Center for Transgender Equality) has been advocating with the State Department to change their rules about gender markers on passports and CRBA’s. Previously they had required proof of irreversible sex reassignment surgery before the gender marker could be changed, although there were exceptions for temporary, provisional passports to allow someone to travel for surgery.
NCTE and other advocates have stressed with the State Department that this policy unnecessarily called attention to transgender travelers whose appearance and gender marker were at odds. In some destinations, this had the potential to create an extremely dangerous situation when a traveler is outed as transgender in an unwelcoming environment or in the presence of prejudiced security personnel.
Fortunately, the new rules represent a significant advance in providing safe, humane and dignified treatment of transgender people. There are details in the guidelines about what information a physician must provide and we will communicate those to you as soon as possible. However, the State Department notes that applicants will not need to supply any additional medical documentation and that there is no SRS requirement.
“’We want to extend our thanks to the Obama Administration, and particularly to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, for understanding the need for this change and then responding to make travel safer for transgender people," commented Mara Keisling, Executive Director of NCTE. This shows how changes in government policy directly impact people’s lives, in this case, for the better. "In the next few days, NCTE will be issuing a definitive resource that fully explains the new guidelines and outlines the ways in which transgender people can make changes to their passports and CRBAs."
Many people—from elected officials to LGBT advocates—have worked for years to change these policies and deserve credit and thanks. Particularly important work was done by Rep. Barney Frank as well as Rep. Steve Israel in the House of Representatives; Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA), which represents LGBT employees and their families working in foreign affairs offices for the US government; all of our allied LGBT organizations who have been committed to this work, including the Center for Global Equality, The Task Force, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal and the Human Rights Campaign; and those working on medical policies, including the American Medical Association and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH).