Easing the Transition on Birth Certificates

By Blake Paradis

New proposed legislation in Illinois will make it easier for transgender people to change the gender designation on their birth certificate. The bill, HB 6073, eases the restrictive “proof of transition” surgery requirement.[1] Proof of surgery requires that a physician submits an affidavit that the person seeking to change gender identification on an official document has undergone an irreversible gender reassignment surgery. Instead, HB 6073 allows transgender people to obtain a declaration from a physician stating they have “undergone treatment that is clinically appropriate for the purpose of gender transition.”[2]  LGBT advocates in the state support the measure, stating that sex-reassignment surgery may actually be unnecessary, harmful, or cost-prohibitive.

Changing an ID, such as a birth certificate, to match a person’s gender expression can be a matter of personal safety. A 2011 report by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that 40 percent of people who presented an ID that did not match their gender expression were harassed, and in some instances assaulted.[3]  In addition, the patchwork of local, state, and federal laws means a person may have a different gender listed on their birth certificate, compared to a driver’s license, or passport.[4]  Thankfully, attitudes are changing around the country.

 

Indeed, forcing a transgender person to have gender reassignment surgery in order to correct identifying documents is inconsistent with modern science. In 2014 the American Medical Association (AMA) recommended that states no longer require sex-reassignment surgery to change the gender designation on a birth certificate.[5]  If state representatives pass HB 6073,  Illinois will join eleven other states, Washington, D.C., and the federal government who already follow the AMA’s recommendation.

 

Adoption of HB 6073 would add to Illinois’ growing list of credentials on transgender rights. Illinois has been particularly noted in the LGBT community for its nondiscrimination policies in healthcare. In July 2014, Illinois asked private health insurers to comply with all nondiscrimination provisions applicable to transgender persons found in the Affordable Care Act, the Illinois Human Rights Act, and the Illinois Mental Health Parity Act.[6]  In addition, Illinois is one of only a handful of states where it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity in housing, employment, and public accommodations.[7]

 

However, transgender people do not receive the same protections in other states. Mississippi and Alabama continue to enact anti-LGBT laws. In 2014, Mississippi passed a ‘religious freedom’ law which allowed businesses to refuse service to same sex couples.[8]  Indiana also enacted its own Religious Freedom Restoration Act a year later. LGBT activists and supporters came out strongly against the legislation and the public took notice.  Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, posted an Op-Ed in The Washington Post denouncing the law.[9]  The President of the NCAA also expressed concern to lawmakers that the legislation would affect student athletes as they prepared for the March Madness Tournament scheduled in Indianapolis.  Other businesses followed suit, punishing Indiana economically.

 

Though these states have challenged gay and transgender rights under the auspices of religious freedom, identity theft has also been identified as a concern.  In 2013 California Assemblyman Don Wagner voted against bills that would ease the administrative process of changing gender identification on official documents. He reasoned that the administrative hurdles for changing gender identification were necessary to prevent identity fraud. Luckily, this does not seem to be a widespread concern.

 

HB 6073 is another small victory in the struggle towards equality.  But it is important to remember that the transgender community still faces economic hardship due to discriminatory policies across the country. Compared to their cis gender counterparts, the transgender community experiences higher rates of unemployment, and a higher likelihood of living in poverty, stemming largely from a range of adverse job outcomes.[10]  The ability for transgender people to have IDs that match their gender expression is critically important.  Without this basic right, transgender people suffer from humiliation and harassment each time they present documentation that contradicts their gender expression.

 

[1] H.D. 410, 99th Gen. Assemb., Reg. Sess. (Ill. 2016), http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/billstatus.asp?DocNum=6073&GAID=13&GA=99&DocTypeID=HB&LegID=95603&SessionID=88.

[2] See id.

[3] Jaime Grant, Lisa Mottet, Justin Tanis, Injustice at Every Turn, A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (2011), http://www.thetaskforce.org/static_html/downloads/reports/reports/ntds_full.pdf.

[4] Jennifer Peltz, Transgender people sue to heave birth records changed, NBC News (Mar. 22, 2011, 7:20PM), http://www.nbcnews.com/id/42220931/ns/health-health_care/t/transgender-people-sue-have-birth-records-changed/#.VsZ0TIQjmxw.

[5] AMA Calls for Modernizing Birth Certificate Policies, MarketWired (Jun. 09, 2014, 8:29PM), http://www.marketwired.com/press-release/ama-calls-for-modernizing-birth-certificate-policies-1918754.htm.

[6] Company Bulletin 2014-10 Healthcare for Transgender Individuals (2014) http://insurance2.illinois.gov/cb/2014/CB2014-10.pdf.

[7] H.R. 775, 89th Gen. Assemb. Reg. Sess. (Ill. 2006), http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs5.asp?ActID=2266&.

[8] S.R. 2681, 2014 Leg., Reg. Sess. (Miss. 2014).

[9] Tim Cook, Tim Cook: Pro-discrimination ‘religious freedom’ laws are dangerous, Washington Post (Mar. 29, 2015), https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/pro-discrimination-religious-freedom-laws-are-dangerous-to-america/2015/03/29/bdb4ce9e-d66d-11e4-ba28-f2a685dc7f89_story.html.

[10] National Transgender Discrimination Survey, National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (2009), http://www.thetaskforce.org/static_html/downloads/reports/fact_sheets/transsurvey_prelim_findings.pdf.