Transgender New Yorkers Sue Over Surgery Requirements For New Birth Certificates

In New York City, a group of transgender residents are fighting for the right to change their sex on their birth certificates without having to go through surgery. Three transgender people have filed lawsuits against the city, and a fourth is planning to, because they oppose the Health Department's requirement that people undergo genital surgery and a post-surgery psychiatric evaluation before changing the sex on their birth certificates.

According to the Associated Press, city officials say they need to make sure there are appropriate checks on altering identity documents. However, transgender advocates says that hormone treatments and a doctor's note should be enough because the surgery is expensive and may not be possible for medical reasons. A lawyer for the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, which is backing the suits, tells The New York Times that 80% of transgender women and 95% of transgender men in New York haven't had what the city considers enough surgery to change their birth certificates. He adds:

"It's just a highly individual decision about whether you want to have surgery on your genitals. There are risks with this surgery. People might be more inclined to stick with what they have."

Current rules on ID documents vary widely from state to state, and between federal and local governments. People's documents may list different genders, which of course sets off alarms when going through airport security. Sam Berkley, one of the plaintiffs, had a double mastectomy, but the city didn't accept his documentation so his requests to change his birth certificate were denied. He says presenting a female birth certificate when he applied for health insurance at his new job was humiliating, and added, "I don't feel comfortable with the government deciding whether I'm a man or not."

A lawyer for the city said the Health Department is considering the concerns of transgender people, telling Reuters:

"We are very sympathetic to the petitioners' concerns and recognize that this is a complex issue ... The Health Department must be satisfied that an applicant has completely and permanently transitioned to the acquired gender prior to the issuance of a birth certificate."

But those who are suing say they have proof that they city's rules are discriminatory. If the wrong sex is listed on a child's birth certificate, parents only need a letter from the hospital to change it. Joann Prinzivalli says she's suing because she wants to same right. "Knowing that it was a mistake in the first place, and having that fixed, is pretty important to me," she said.

Transgender People Contest NYC Birth-Record Rule [AP]
Suits Dispute City's Rule on Recording Sex Changes [The New York Times]
Transgender New Yorkers Sue Over Birth Certificates [Reuters]