New York City Council Passes Birth Certificate Modernization Bill

By: Dec. 08, 2014
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New York's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community today celebrates the New York City Council's overwhelmingly affirmative vote to pass legislation that removes the surgical requirements for transgender people born in New York City to correct the gender markers on their birth certificates.

A coalition of partners, including the New York Civil Liberties Union, Empire State Pride Agenda, Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF), Sylvia Rivera Law Project, New York City's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, The Audre Lorde Project, the Ali Forney Center, the New York Legal Assistance Group, Brooklyn Legal Services LGBT & HIV Project and community leaders commend the New York City Council, and Councilmember Corey Johnson, the bill sponsor in particular, for passing legislation that will help to shed some of the stigma that transgender New Yorkers face on a daily basis when trying to access basic services that many of us take for granted. A birth certificate is a foundational document upon which most other identifying documents are based. The law will allow transgender individuals who were born in New York City to finally align their birth certificates and other forms of identification to reflect their true gender identities.

Additionally, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is expected to implement its parallel policy change tomorrow and Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to sign the bill into law soon.

"Having such a critical document that correctly reflects your gender identity is a basic human right that too many transgender people have been denied for far too long," said Council Member Corey Johnson, Chair of the Council's Committee on Health. "These measures will transform the lives of transgender individuals in so many ways that other people take for granted-from accessing government benefits and health coverage, to getting a job and using appropriate facilities. I want to thank the advocates for their tireless work on this issue, and also Dr. Mary Bassett, Commissioner of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, for helping to make New York City a more just place."

"Today is a proud day for New York City as we celebrate the long-awaited passage of a bill that brings us one step closer to creating a safe and equal place for transgender New Yorkers," said Empire State Pride Agenda Executive Director Nathan M. Schaefer. "We applaud City Council Member Corey Johnson, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the entire New York City Council for making this important issue a priority."

"This change comes as welcome news to the many New Yorkers struggling with harassment, discrimination, and endless bureaucratic nightmares all because they lack identification documents that match who they are," said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. "We applaud the City Council and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for their efforts to promote equal opportunity for transgender New Yorkers."

"As a native born transgender New Yorker, I thank Corey Johnson and the NY City Council on this bill that will make my life easier and complete a transition that realistically ended many years ago, said New York Trans Rights Organization (NYTRO), Director Melissa Sklarz. "Now, trans New Yorkers, past, present, and future, know that New York City takes their lives seriously in simplifying this basic step of identity."

"We are thrilled by passage of this legislation. Today's action will dramatically improve the lives of transgender people born in New York City," said TLDEF Executive Director Michael Silverman. "We thank Councilmember Johnson, the City Council and the Board of Health for taking action. The city's policy served only to harm transgender people and they moved to change it. We also thank the many activists and advocates who have worked tirelessly to ensure that the city's harmful policy will be changed."

"The legislation that passed today is a foundational tool for advocates who seek to address the lifelong difficulties that transgender people experience with health, educational attainment and economic productivity," said Glennda Testone, Executive Director of The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center. "We are grateful for this crucial step to put a stop to the appalling harassment, humiliation and discrimination that trans people face when they present a birth certificate that inaccurately reflects their gender. The Center applauds Council Member Johnson for introducing it and the Council for passing this vital legislation to ensure that transgender community members are able to have the basic human rights they are entitled to."

"Wealth should never be a prerequisite for equal treatment. The transgender youth served by the Ali Forney Center are destitute; they are far from being able to afford surgery, even if that is what they would choose," said Carl Siciliano, Executive Director of the Ali Forney Center. "I applaud this bill, which takes an important step forward in bringing about fair and equal treatment for transgender New Yorkers."

The change brings New York City into line with New York State's policy change implemented earlier this year and with a number of Federal agencies and states, and serves as model legislation for the rest of the nation. In 2010, the U.S. Department of State updated its policy regarding Consular Reports of Birth Abroad (a federal birth certificate for U.S. citizens born abroad) and U.S. passports to require that a person's treating or evaluating physician write a letter certifying that the person has undergone appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition. No proof of surgery is required. The Social Security Administration has also eliminated its surgical requirement for amending gender markers. Other federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Veterans Health Administration and the Office of Personnel Management have adopted similar policies.

According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 40% of transgender people have faced harassment when presenting identity documents that did not match their gender identity/expression. In addition, 15% report being denied entry or asked to leave because of gender mismatches, and 3% report facing physical assault due to mismatched ID.