Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

Transgender New Yorkers Sue NYC over Birth Certificate Gender Designation

Three transgender New Yorkers have filed a lawsuit claiming the city is making it too difficult to obtain birth certificates that reflect their true gender identity, Raw Story reports. Sam Berkley, a transgender man, Joann Prinzivalli and Patricia Harrington, both trans women, are named as plaintiffs in the suit filed against the City of New York and the NY Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The plaintiffs decry the city’s stringent surgical requirements necessary to change the gender designation on their birth certificates.

“A birth certificate is a fundamental form of identification,” Noah Lewis, an attorney for the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, told Raw Story. “By refusing to give transgender people accurate birth certificates that reflect who they are, the city subjects transgender people to harassment and discrimination in areas like employment where ID is essential to proving eligibility to work. Proper ID is essential for full participation in society. As long as the City discriminates against transgender people by denying them accurate ID, transgender people will continue to be pushed to the margins of society.”

Berkley says he has undergone hormone therapy and some surgery, but the city has refused to change the gender designation from female to male because he did not have the particular surgery required for such a change.

“I’ve known since I was 5 that I’m male,” he said in a press release. “I’ve undergone medical treatment as part of my transition and the medical documentation I submitted from my doctor should be sufficient to get my birth certificate corrected. Until it’s corrected, I fear that I’ll be subjected to harassment and discrimination whenever I need to present my birth certificate.”

Prinzivalli told Raw Story she wants to have the required surgery but cannot for medical reasons. “This policy is unfair to me and to other transgender people who just want ID that matches who we are,” she said.

Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told Raw Story: “Most trans people can’t financially afford to have the kind of surgery that’s required, but also a lot of people have a medical contraindication… so the standard that we promote is the standard of having a physician say that based on their medical experience and knowledge, that this person is a male or female. Another standard that other jurisdictions are using is the standard of a court order. So, more and more judges around the country have procedures for getting appropriate medical input so they can issue a court order ordering vital identification documents — like birth certificates and driver’s licenses.”

As things stand right now, the city will not accept a physician’s finding nor a court order as sufficient documentation for altering a person’s gender designation.

Fully 80% of trans women and 95% of trans men will not undergo the surgery necessary for the city to change their gender designation. “So, the vast majority of transgender New Yorkers don’t have accurate birth certificates,” Lewis said.

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