New York to Ease Rules So Transgender Residents Can Update Birth Certificates

By David B. Caruso
Associated Press
Wednesday, November 8, 2006

NEW YORK, Nov. 7 -- The city wants to make it easier for transgender New Yorkers to switch the sex listed on birth certificates even without undergoing sex-change surgery, putting the city at the forefront of efforts to redefine sexual identity.

Under current city rules, only people who can show proof of surgery qualify for getting a revised birth certificate. Even then, the only change made is the elimination of any reference to sex on the document.

The new plan, unveiled in September, would let birth records reflect the new sex. It would also allow changes for people who have not had surgery but can prove they have taken other steps toward changing sex, such as undergoing hormone therapy.

The policy change is one that advocates for New York's sizable transgender community have requested for years. It has taken on greater significance since Sept. 11, 2001.

New Yorkers need to show photo IDs to enter office towers, airport terminals, public monuments and all sorts of government buildings. They need IDs to apply for a job or buy beer at a neighborhood deli.

If someone inspecting those documents notices that a person's listed sex does not match the way the person looks, "that can be a very dangerous situation for a transgender person," said Cole Thaler, transgender rights lawyer for the national legal aid group Lambda Legal.

Thaler said having a birth certificate that lists the sex matching a person's appearance will ease the way to getting other government records, including passports, driver's licenses and Social Security records.

Lorna Thorpe, deputy commissioner of the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, called the current system "outdated."

"A lot of transgender persons use different techniques to switch genders," she said. Some try hormones. A smaller number undergo surgery.

All but three states now allow people who have had a sex change to get a new birth certificate. New York City has done so since 1971. The city now issues about a dozen of the revised birth certificates a year.

Of the states that allow similar changes of birth certificates, almost all currently require proof of sex-reassignment surgery.

Tennessee has a law expressly prohibiting a change of sex on a birth certificate. Ohio and Idaho also do not allow the change, because of court rulings or as a matter of administrative policy.

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