Transgender Charedi loses court battle
A HIGH COURT judge has rejected the request of a transgender father — who has left the Charedi community and now lives as a woman — to have direct contact with his five young children.
Mr Justice Jackson said he had reached “the unwelcome conclusion” that there was a risk of the mother and children being marginalised or excluded by the strictly Orthodox community if they saw their father face-to-face.
While family court proceedings were held in private last year, Judge Jackson published his judgment on Monday on the strict condition the family’s anonymity was preserved.
He ruled the father could have “indirect contact” with the children — such as writing letters — four times a year for their birthdays or Jewish festivals.
The judge found it “a very troubling case. The children are caught between these two apparently incompatible ways of living, led by tiny minorities within society at large.
“Both minorities enjoy the protection of the law: on the one hand, the right of religious freedom and, on the other, the right to equal treatment. It is painful to find these vulnerable groups in conflict .”
While the father had been raised as male, she had experienced a “consistent nagging feeling of incongruity” since early childhood, had sought to delay marriage and had tried to kill herself.
She left her family two years ago, lives as a woman and is considering hormone therapy and surgery. She believes herself to be “the first transgender person to have left a UK Charedi community”. According to the judge, the father had offered to see the children under supervision and “a requirement to assume, so far as possible, her previous male appearance in the early stages”.
The judge said the mother of the children had related how her husband had “expressed feelings of being unhappy in his body” during their marriage, but she had“thought it was a religious crisis, not a gender issue”.
If the children had direct contact with their father, the parent body of their schools would not allow other children to play with them, the mother had warned.
On behalf of the mother, Rabbi Andrew Oppenheimer said, if the children had contact with the father, “the families around them will effectively ostracise them. The impact on the family in such circumstances in terms of social isolation will be devastating”.
In evidence, Rabbi Oppenheimer made clear that in Torah law to be gay or transgender is to be a sinner. He cited support from Rabbi Shraga Feivel Zimmerman, head of the Gateshead community, and Dayan Yisroel Lichtenstein, head of the Federation Beth Din.
Rabbi Zimmerman stated sex-change procedures violated Jewish law, while Dayan Lichtenstein said Jewish law did not recognise any change of gender.
But Rabbi Ariel Abel, the rabbi of a regional central Orthodox community, said on behalf of the father there was no reason that children who are transgender parented could not have a “full and satisfying Orthodox life”.
The religious studies head at the school of the father’s eldest child said a meeting with his father “would cause unimaginable and irreparable damage ”.
Judy Henry and Emma Morris, therapists from the Anna Freud Centre, said the children’s cultural context should be taken into account. “If the children run the risk of being denied places at good schools and yeshivas and are being shunned and ostracised… this will have a negative impact on how they function in the widest possible sense both now and in the future,” they wrote.
Judge Jackson said his decision was not “a failure to uphold transgender rights… but the upholding of the rights of the children to have the least harmful outcome in a situation not of their making.” Alma Re is el, a social worker and a trustee of Keshet UK, a charity promoting equality in the Jewish community for LGBT+ people, said the implications of the case were “frightening”.
She said: “This judgment will increase fear that coming out could result in the loss of family as well as community.”
She sought to delay marriage and tried to kill herself’ The impact on the family would be devastating’