On Thursday the New York State Department of Health announced it will no longer require transgender New Yorkers to provide documentation of gender reassignment surgery or hormonal treatments to update the gender on their birth certificates.
Before it was nixed, the requirement left those who had not met the state’s standards for physically transitioning without any viable options to obtain a birth certificate to accurately reflect their gender.
Only about a quarter of trans people have had any surgical procedures related to their transition, and many choose not to as they are costly and pose significant health risks. For those who do, the transition can take months, sometimes years, and even after transitioning, New York state required extensive medical documentation as proof deemed necessary for an updated birth certificate. The change in the policy will eliminate these burdens, and now any transgender New Yorker can change their gender on their birth certificate — unless they were born in New York City.
New York City issues its own birth certificates, and despite the change in state policy, transgender people born in the city will still be required to provide proof of reassignment surgery to get a new birth certificate. The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a lawsuit against the City of New York in March 2011 to challenge its discriminatory policy. Despite a state Supreme Court ruling a year later in a similar lawsuit which required the city Health Department to reevaluate its requirements, the policy still remains unchanged.
According to the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, New York City’s policy prohibits many transgender people from getting documents such as driver’s licenses and passports needed to provide eligibility to work, apply for housing programs, and other social services.
“Having a birth certificate that shows the wrong gender can make doing any of those things difficult or impossible,” states the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. “When we show a certificate with a gender other than the one we live in, we are often accused of fraud, turned away, or harassed, attacked, humiliated, or discriminated against because of our gender. Even in the best of cases we face embarrassment, confusion, and delays.”
In 2008, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force surveyed 6,500 trans Americans and found that 40 percent who presented an ID that didn’t accurately reflect their gender were harassed, 15 percent were asked to leave, and 3 percent reported being attacked or assaulted. New York City’s refusal to change its policy along with the rest of the state places its transgender residents at risk of a similar outcome.
The World Health Organization issued a statement Friday recommending that gender reassignment surgery not be a requirement for legal recognition, because discrimination on the basis of gender identity is a “human rights violation.” Still over 30 states still consider it a requirement to changing the gender on one’s birth certificate.
Shannon Greenwood is an intern at ThinkProgress.