SJD '21, Faculty of Law
“I'd like to thank all the people who made it possible — my family, supervisors, my colleagues, collaborators, and comrades.”
When asked what drives his work on trans rights, 2020-2021 Governor General’s gold medal winner Ido Katri has a simple enough answer. “I believe in research that dares to create change.”
A longtime advocate for trans rights in Israel/Palestine, Katri arrived at the University of Toronto in 2014 with a decade’s worth of experience in legal advocacy. As a young law student, he had seen firsthand “the enormous gap in trans lived experiences between how the law looks ‘on the books’ and how it functions in daily life.” Concerned by the lack of research on the topic, Katri began to do the work himself. But as the first out trans jurist in the country, he found he didn’t have the institutional support or intellectual community he needed to further his work.
Katri found what he was looking for at U of T, where he earned his SJD from the Faculty of Law under the supervision of Professor Brenda Cossman. His dissertation explored what has come to be known as gender self-determination, i.e. laws and policies that allow for the reclassification of sex based on self-identification of gender.
“I examined sex reclassification policies on a global scale to show the rise of a right to gender identity,” explains Katri. “Yet, as an individual right, gender identity fails to address systemic harms and inevitably redraws the public/private divide along the contours of the trans body. Looking at the limits of gender identity as a legal right, I used critical race-, queer-, trans- and post-colonial theories to offer new imaginaries for trans legal engagements. “
Katri says Prof. Cossman not only encouraged him to pursue what was an interdisciplinary and “untypical” dissertation but also helped him create institutional and intellectual networks of support.
“My supervisor taught me not only to open my thoughts against my own persuasions but to believe in my work and its impact,” reminisces Katri. “I have been shaped as a scholar through our endless conversations about theory and practice —at the office, in class, in conferences and around the dinner table at her home surrounded by other thinkers.”
Besides the support of his mentor, Katri is also grateful for the broader community at U of T who supported and nurtured his efforts. As part of the collaborative program with the Centre for Sexual Diversity, he took a course on queer theory with Professor Dina Georgis, whose work later became central to his own. He also got to work with one of his intellectual heroes, American lawyer, scholar, and trans activist Dean Spade, who served on his supervisory committee.
As for the Governor General’s gold medal, Katri —who also received a Trudeau Foundation scholarship and a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship—says he owes a debt of gratitude to “all the people who made it possible — my family, my supervisors, my colleagues, collaborators, and comrades.”
“I followed my heart, but it was also risky,” reflects the scholar, who is now a tenure-track faculty member at Tel Aviv University’s School of Social Work and a lecturer in its Faculty of Law. “Receiving this award reminds me that excellence in research requires that I keep listening to heartbeats—my own and those of the people whose lives my research aims to change.”