Like most other identification documents, birth certificates – needed for such things as obtaining a passport – have the potential to “out” a transgender person when the recipient realizes the name and/or sex on the document doesn’t match the application or intake form. To remain safe from discrimination and/or to keep their personal medical history private, many transgender people try to change these documents so everything aligns.
That’s not possible to do in many cases. While rules are being loosened all over – many thanks to the work of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and other advocates – they are still very tight in many places. One of those is New York City, where you can’t get the sex on your birth certificate changed unless you have had certain specific surgeries. This is an unfairly high bar. Not only are these surgeries almost never covered by health insurance – putting them out of the financial reach of many transgender people – but some transgender people don’t even want them. The 2011 NCTE/NGLTF report, “Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey,” found that 14% of male-to-female individuals and 21-72% of female-to-male individuals don’t even want the types of surgeries usually required by these laws.
Whether these requirements are even legal under the New York City Human Rights Law is what’s at stake in three lawsuits being filed by the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF). You can read more about these lawsuits at http://www.transgenderlegal.org.