14:38, November 15 83 0 theguardian.com

2017-11-15 14:38:03
Court hears transgender woman's appeal over access to her Jewish children

A parent who left a tight-knit ultra-Orthodox Jewish community to embark on a new life as a woman has taken her battle to be allowed access to her five children to the court of appeal.

The transgender woman, referred to in an earlier court case as J, was challenging a ruling this year that the children risked greater psychological harm by being ostracised by the Haredi community if they saw her than if direct contact ceased.

Three appeal judges – Sir James Munby, Lady Justice Arden and Lord Justice Singh – considered J’s case on Wednesday and are expected to rule in the near future.

Alison Ball QC, leading J’s legal team, told the appeal judges that the case was “troubling”.

In January, in a case heard by Mr Justice Peter Jackson in the Manchester family court, J said she wanted to be “sensitively reintroduced” to her children, whom she had not seen for about 18 months.

The children’s other parent, referred to in that hearing as B, told the court that direct contact would result in the children being shunned and excluded from family events and community festivities.

With “real regret”, the judge concluded that the children should not see J but should be allowed to exchange letters and cards. In a 41-page judgment, he said: “These children are caught between two apparently incompatible ways of living, led by tiny minorities within society at large … It is painful to find these vulnerable groups in conflict.”

He added: “In the final analysis, the gulf between these parents – the mother within the ultra-Orthodox community and the father as a transgender person – is too wide for the children to bridge.

“This outcome is not a failure to uphold transgender rights, still less a ‘win’ for the community, but the upholding of the rights of the children to have the least harmful outcome in a situation not of their making.”

J has said she believes she is the first transgender person to have left a Haredi community in the UK. She grew up in an insular environment in north Manchester in which daily life – dress codes, language, education, culture – was governed by strict Jewish law.

She began to question her identity when she was six. She had “feelings of incongruity”, she told the Jewish Chronicle in 2015. “I tried to block the feelings out. I didn’t want to believe I was crazy … My teenage years were very confusing.”

Her parents arranged a marriage, in accordance with Haredi custom, in 2001. In the earlier court case, B acknowledged that J was a loving parent although deeply unhappy, which was attributed to a religious crisis.

Eventually, with the help of an LGBT support group, J had left the community. She told her 12-year-old son of her intention a few days before she left, but B only learned of J’s departure by text message. Ten days later, the reason for J’s move emerged via Facebook, causing deep distress to B, the court heard in the earlier hearing.