To: The Universal House of Justice
Date: 26 December 2002
From: Research Department
The Research Department has studied the questions concerning the Bahá’í perspective on the “medical and social treatments of transsexual people” raised by Mr. ... in his email message of 7 November 2002 to the Universal House of Justice. We provide the following response.
As to the Bahá’í view of transsexuality and sex-change operations, the extract from a letter dated 31 August 1983, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, cited below, sets out the following guidance:
The House of Justice has not found any text in the Bahá’í writings which deals explicitly with the subjects of transsexuality or surgical operations carried out to change sex or to establish a single sex. It has decided that changes of sex or attempts to change sex should, at the present time, be considered medical questions on which advice and guidance should be sought from experts in that field.
Mr. ... is doubtless aware that the issue of transsexuality and the question of determining the circumstances under which sex-change operations should be undertaken are very complex. There is a wide range of gender identity disorders of which transsexuality is one of the most extreme. In addition, international standards of care have been established for gender identity disorders. These include psychotherapy, hormone treatment and surgical therapy, which are frequently offered sequentially to the individual concerned. The specific treatment regimen, necessarily, depends on the diagnosis and decision of the medical experts involved. [footnote 1: The Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association, “Standards of Care for Gender Identity Disorders, Sixth Version”, February 2001, http://www.hbigda.org/socv6.html]
With regard to the specific questions raised by Mr. ... we attach for his interest a short compilation of extracts from letters written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice in response to questions concerning the subjects of transsexuality and sex-change operations [this compilation was not included with the copy of the letter from the House I received. -J.W.].
From a study of these extracts we offer the following comments.
The Acceptability of Sex-Changing Surgery
Mr. ... seeks clarification concerning the circumstances under which sex-changing operations would be acceptable to the Faith, and whether the Bahá’í institutions require a believer to pursue non-surgical methods of treatments, e.g. psychotherapy, reserving surgery as the last option. As noted above, at the present time, the Universal House of Justice considers the change of sex to be a medical question on which the advice of medical experts should be sought. (See extracts 1 and 5 in the attached compilation.) The individual concerned is free to decide whether or not to accept the professional medical opinion (extracts 4 and 5).
Administrative Sanctions and Recognition of the Sex Change by Bahá’í Institutions
As to whether a Bahá’í who is a transsexual could undergo sex-change surgery and maintain his or her administrative rights, the Universal House of Justice has clarified that, “If ... [the] medical opinion advises a change of sex, and the individual concerned decides to accept the advice given, no administrative sanction should be imposed by Bahá’í institutions on that individual” (extract 4).
With regard to whether or not the Bahá’í institutions recognize the change of gender, extracts 1, 2, 6 and 7 suggest that the institutions recognize the change when it has been “officially registered” (extract 1) and when they receive “documentary evidence, both medical and civil,” stating what the individual’s sex is (extract 2).
As to the question concerning marriage following a sex-change operation, the Universal House of Justice indicates that, “If a Bahá’í has had surgery and a change of sex has been registered officially on the birth certificate or otherwise, marriage is permissible to a person of the sex opposite to that which is officially registered” (extract 1).
Counselling Role of Bahá’í Institutions
Mr. ... enquires whether a Bahá’í is required to consult with the institutions of the Faith before undergoing a sex-change operation, and whether the institutions would offer support to the family of the individual concerned. As to whether Spiritual Assemblies have a counselling role with individuals prior to their opting for a sex-change operation, while believers are always free to seek the assistance of the Assembly when confronted with a personal problem, they are, in general, not required to do so “unless concern for the reputation and good name of the Faith requires such institutional involvement” (extract 3).
In relation to an individual’s consultations with an Assembly concerning a sex-change operation, the House of Justice has instructed that it is not within the province of a Spiritual Assembly to advise a believer “whether or not to undergo a sex-change procedure” (extract 2). The Assembly, however, may well wish to consult with the believer in the event that his or her conduct “conspicuously disgraces the Faith and brings serious injury to its reputation” (extract 2). See also extracts 7 and 8.
As to whether the Bahá’í institutions would offer support for the family of a believer who chose to have a sex-change operation, the Research Department has not, to date, located any specific references to this subject in the literature of the Faith. It is suggested, however, that this would appear to be a matter that the particular Assembly would decide, perhaps in consultation with the National Spiritual Assembly.