How often do you think about yours? Do even know where yours is? My mother gave me mine when I applied for my first passport some 20 years ago, and I can’t think of where it is now.
For the transgendered community in the United States, many of them think about their birth certificates all the time. And in a quiet, simple, but altogether humane move, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene proposes to make it easier for transgender people to change theirs. Specifically, the city is looking to do away with the proof of surgery requirement.
Still, why is this so important? TheBlot Magazine reached out to transgender activist Andrea Zekis, co-founder of the Arkansas Trans Equality Coalition. According to Zekis, the birth certificate can be far more than a legal point of record. Zekis noted that the birth certificate is “often is the first legal document that needs to be changed before all others can be. So many things are tied in with your birth certificate.”
The biggest hurdle is that most legal jurisdictions will change your birth certificate to reflect the proper sex, but many, including New York City, require proof of a sexual reassignment surgery in order to do so. For transgender individuals, this is significant in that many cannot afford surgery, or it’s simply not desired. Surgery is burdensome, and many insurance providers will not cover the procedure or cover the individual afterward should they fund it by other means.
According to Article 207 of the New York City Health Code, the requirements for changing birth certificates are currently:
1. Court-ordered name change
2. Proof of convertive surgery, generally interpreted as genital surgery, with:
3. Surgical operative report; and
4. Post-operative exam by physician specifying change of sex was completed
The proposed changes by the health department would do away with all of those by requiring only that the person supply a letter from a licensed health or mental-health provider reflecting an individual’s request for a correction of sex designation. According to the health department, these providers include licensed physicians, doctoral-level psychologists, clinical social workers, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and mental-health counselors, among others.
“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. Johnson is also the bill’s sponsor. He noted that “practically speaking, 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.”
Where a transgender person is born can make a big difference. In fact, states like Tennessee, Idaho and Ohio will not allow for birth certificate changes whatsoever.
Fifty states mean 50 different rules, and you can’t change where you are born. But if New York City is the tren setter it so often has been, maybe this small but distinct move toward equality will catch on elsewhere.
Brock Thompson is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.