New York City Council, Department of Health Propose Birth Certificate Modernization for Transgender Citizens

New York City Council, Department of Health Propose Birth Certificate Modernization for Transgender Citizens

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New York City
Photo: Vasi Lennka

Legislation was introduced in the New York City Council Tuesday by Council Member Corey Johnson that removes the surgical requirements for transgender New Yorkers to change the gender markers on their birth certificates.

This legislation will eliminate antiquated barriers transgender New Yorkers had to go through to change their birth certificate to properly reflect their gender identity.  The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is proposing a mirror provision to the Board of Health today to amend the Health Code.

Birth certificates are living documents that are used in many contexts to prove identity, age, and citizenship. They are often the only form of ID that low-income New Yorkers have when applying for jobs or public benefits. Currently, individuals must present proof of gender reassignment surgery to change their birth certificates, presenting a barrier for the vast majority of transgender native New Yorkers who do not undergo surgery and are therefore prevented from having accurate birth records.  According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, eight out of 10 transgender women and nine out of 10 transgender men have not had the surgeries the Health Department currently requires.

“Having such a critical document that correctly reflects your gender identity is a basic human right that too many transgender people have been denied for far too long,” said Council Member Corey Johnson, Chair of the Council’s Committee on Health.   “These measures will transform the lives of transgender individuals in so many ways that other people take for granted – from accessing government benefits and health coverage, to getting a job and using appropriate facilities. I want to thank the advocates for their tireless work on this issue, and also Dr. Mary Bassett, Commissioner of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, for helping to make New York City a more just place.”

“The changes proposed by the City Council and the Health Department affirm the basic human rights of transgender New Yorkers and will go a long way in addressing disparities faced by transgender individuals,” said Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.  “I thank Health Committee Chair Corey Johnson and Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett for supporting these important measures to simplify requirements for transgender birth certificate applicants.”

“Many people take for granted that a birth certificate is the key to access health care and many other important services in New York City,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett. “We’re proud to propose this change so transgender New Yorkers no longer have to change their bodies to change their gender identity. I thank Health Committee Chair Corey Johnson for his efforts to make sure transgender New Yorkers have access to the same services as all New Yorkers.”

Individuals will be able to amend the gender marker on their birth certificates by having a medical or mental health professional fill out an affidavit or affirmation attesting that the changed sex designation more accurately reflects the applicant’s gender identity.  While similar to policies in other jurisdictions, the proposals expand the categories of professionals who can attest and removes medicalized language, increasing access for transgender people, a group that has historically been discriminated against and disenfranchised.

“You don’t realize the importance of having a birth certificate that accurately reflects who you are until you face the challenges that transgender New Yorkers regularly struggle with – harassment, denials of service, employment problems, and other endless bureaucratic nightmares caused by a single ineradicable mark on their basic proof of identity,” said New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “We applaud Council Member Johnson and the Department of Health for taking this important step toward eliminating the discrimination faced by transgender New Yorkers in their everyday lives.”

“The bill and the policy proposing to allow transgender people to amend their birth certificates without requiring that they undergo sex reassignment is a highly positive action that directly addresses the challenges faced by transgender New Yorkers as they seek access to the same privileges and rights that other New Yorkers enjoy,” said Glennda Testone, Executive Director of The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center. “This policy revision is a crucial step that will allow transgender people equal access to vital records critical to survival and participation in society, and we applaud Council Member Johnson for introducing it and the NYC DOHMH Board of Health for introducing similar policy.”

“We commend the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the New York City Council under Corey Johnson’s leadership for moving this important correction forward so that transgendered New Yorkers can secure birth certificates that accurately reflect their gender identity,” said Empire State Pride Agenda Executive Director Nathan M. Schaefer. “We urge both governmental bodies to adopt this change as soon as possible and bring New York City up to speed with the state and closer to equality for transgender New Yorkers.”

“We applaud these efforts to help transgender people born in New York City update their birth certificates to match who they truly are. These proposed policy changes reflect modern medical standards for transgender health care,” said TLDEF Executive Director Michael Silverman. “A birth certificate is a fundamental form of identification. Yet New York City’s existing policy makes it all but impossible for transgender people to get birth certificates that reflect their true identities. It requires surgical procedures that most transgender people have not undergone, either because of discriminatory health insurance exclusions that make such procedures unaffordable, or because such procedures are medically inappropriate for some people. That leaves most transgender people with inaccurate birth certificates that do not reflect their true identities.  And it leaves them to face harassment and discrimination whenever they need to show those inaccurate birth certificates. We are hopeful that the City Council and the Board of Health will change this harmful policy and improve the lives of transgender people.”

“The Sylvia Rivera Law Project commends Council Member Corey Johnson and the New York City Council for introducing important policy recommendations that seek to eliminate barriers faced by transgender New Yorkers seeking to access identity documents that affirm their gender without being forced to undergo invasive and often inaccessible surgeries. Without access to proper identity documents, transgender people in New York City are increasingly exposed to discrimination when trying to access employment, healthcare, public benefits, and housing. This step brings NYC closer to conformity with the modern policies and best practices being adopted nationwide.”

“As a transgender New Yorker, I am thrilled and grateful for the work of Council Member Corey Johnson and the Health Committee who worked so hard to update the journey of legal documentation for all trans people,” said Melissa Sklarz, Director, New York Trans Rights Organization (NYTRO). “This bill sends a message that the largest city in the United States takes the needs of all of its citizens seriously. We look forward to more work with the Mayor, the Speaker, and the rest of the Council to bring the health needs of trans New Yorkers into the 21st century.”

The changes would bring New York City up to speed with a number of Federal agencies and states that already offer similar guidelines.   The Social Security Administration has also eliminated its surgical requirement for amending gender markers. Other federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Veterans Health Administration and the Office of Personnel Management have adopted similar policies.  New York State also revised its birth certificate policy in June, which New York City was not subject to.

According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 40 percent of transgender people have faced harassment when presenting identity documents that did not match their gender identity/expression. In addition, 15 percent report being denied entry or asked to leave because of gender mismatches, and 3 percent report facing physical assault due to mismatched ID.

“It’s going to improve the lives of transgender New Yorkers and allow them to get birth certificates that match their accurate gender,” added Johnson, who Chairs the Council Committee on Health.

Council Member Johnson is also introducing a companion bill that will create an Advisory Board of transgender advocates and other experts to review implementation of the new requirement.

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