Ido Katri is a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto’s faculty of law. Katri, 32, was born outside Netanya, Israel, and has long been an advocate for gender diversity. Specializing in interdisciplinary legal research, Katri is currently doing his doctorate documenting the rise of trans political and legal demands through the voices of community members fighting exclusion.
What was the nature of the work you did in Israel before coming to Canada to study?
I went to law school at Hebrew University, then clerked at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, an organization that defends human rights and civil liberties. I then worked at Gisha, an Israeli human rights organization that works to protect the freedom of movement of Palestinians, especially in Gaza. Then I co-founded the Gila Project for Trans Empowerment, the first NGO action group of the trans community there. I also worked as the group’s legal adviser, providing free legal aid and doing a lot of impact litigation. For example, I was working on accessibility to gender affirmative procedures in health care for trans and other gender variant people – gender affirmative procedures is what used to be called a “sex change.”
What made you decide to leave Israel?
I found I needed to go somewhere where I’m not the only scholar working on this issue. I was looking for somewhere where there’s already been a lot more research and legal work around these issues. I chose the University of Toronto. I first did a master’s of law and now I’m a doctoral student in U of T’s faculty of law. I’m a Pierre Elliott Trudeau Scholar and a Vanier Canada Scholar. This is my fourth year living in Toronto.
Toronto, and Canada more generally, is a hub for trans rights, compared to other places. A lot of legal work has been done by gender variant communities in Canada. I also realized that a lot of these issues are global, not local. Trans issues are coming up everywhere these days. So being in Canada and being at the forefront of this lets me have a more systemic look at what’s going on with trans rights everywhere.
Can you briefly describe your doctorate research?
I’m doing a legal ethnography project of how laws are changing around the world in response to the idea of gender self-determination. I’m documenting the rise of trans political and legal demands through the voices of community members fighting exclusion. I’m connecting the legal discourses of gender, race and nationality. I’m aiming to track how states reinforce sex categories, not only by looking at the legal apparatuses, but by tending to the unheard voices of those most affected by certain polices and legislation.
A lot of my research comes from being involved in trans movements and trans legal movements, from understanding the issues from the ground up. I’m now taking those issues and doing theoretical work around them.
My master’s thesis was a comparative analysis of how the courts understand lived experiences of discrimination in Canadian and Israeli cases, and how litigation could be better. I got so much support and appreciation for the work. My thesis won the Alan Marks Medal and was nominated by the faculty of law for the Governor General’s Award. I decided to expand that project into a doctorate.
Now I’m looking critically at what’s happening in the sphere, where we should go and how people’s lives are impacted. I’m mainly looking at Canada, Israel and the United States, but I’m also doing an overview of many different global jurisdictions, to map out some global trends.
What sorts of trends are you seeing?
In places like Canada, I’m seeing that, while the law is advancing regarding a person’s right to gender self-determination, the change in what’s written in the law seems to be quicker than people’s actual experiences. There’s a big gap between what the law says and how it actually affects people’s lives.
Generally speaking, does Israeli law have features that protect trans or gender variant people?
There’s no mention of gender identity in Israeli law. There’s no formal legislation that recognizes or protects trans people, no formal or legal recognition for trans self-determination. I think it’s connected to the political situation there. We’re working with government offices to improve the policies: with the Ministry of Health to improve policies on accessing health care for trans people, with the Ministry of the Interior to change policies regarding personal identification. We’re working with trans people in prisons. The gains in these areas are very important in terms of peoples’ day-to-day lives. In some cases, we’ve been able to change protocols, but if things aren’t formalized as laws, the protocols are subject to change again. In recent years, we’ve seen protocols changed many times. Each change impacts peoples’ access to things like health care.
Why, in your view, is this research so important?
In Canada and globally, the fight for trans inclusion is gaining momentum, yet the realities of many trans people continue to be precarious. Trans people are still disproportionately criminalized, poor and undereducated because of systemic discrimination. My research values the rich survival knowledge that’s encrypted in marginalized peoples’ lives. It recognizes that the legal discourse is limited, because it’s missing the voices of gender variant people themselves.
Can you tell me a bit about the work you’re doing in Israeli prisons?
About three years ago, with a colleague from Columbia University, I started doing research around how trans people are being held in prisons – how prisons decide where to house trans prisoners and the conditions of how they’re kept – both in Israel and the U.S.
In Israel, we saw that across different cases, the state mentioned a policy that anybody whose “sexual identity” is unclear would be kept in solitary confinement. This wasn’t published formally, it was just mentioned in some criminal cases. We looked up all the criminal cases that mentioned trans or gender variance, to see how these people were housed. We found that all were kept in administrative segregation or solitary confinement. We found experiences of trans people who’d been arrested for a night or two, for example, and who were kept in solitary. We interviewed a trans woman who was thrown into a men’s prison in solitary for five days, with no access to her medication. We collected affidavits from other trans people who said they were kept in solitary for long periods – 18 or 24 months – for being trans. We brought on a pro bono lawyer.
He and I petitioned to the High Court of Justice, demanding that they tell us their policy on trans inmates’ housing, and claiming that it’s an inhumane policy to keep them in solitary. It harms trans people’s autonomy in significant ways and puts them in situations equivalent to torture.
The prison work isn’t part of my dissertation. It’s separate from that. Now I’m also looking at policies towards trans soldiers in Canada, the U.S. and Israel.
What drives you to do this work?
I’ve been a trans advocate for about 10 years. The question of what this landscape is like comes from my own lived experience of gender variance. I’m part of this community; this is the community I come from. When I was in law school, I didn’t have anyone to teach me about trans issues in law; there was no one to answer my questions. I initially started researching this just to teach myself what’s going on.
This interview has been edited and condensed for style and clarity.