Metro Weekly

Hawaii Legislature sends transgender birth certificate bill to governor’s desk

Measure eliminates surgery, court order requirements for obtaining new, correct identity documents

Hawaii Gov. David Ige (Credit: Governor's office)
Hawaii Gov. David Ige (Credit: Governor’s office)

Hawaii has simplified the process by which transgender and intersex individuals may obtain a new, clean version of their birth certificate. The Hawaii Legislature last Wednesday approved the measure, sending it to the desk of Gov. David Ige (D) for his signature.

The bill, HB 631, amends a statute governing the issuance of new birth certificates, eliminating a requirement that an individual undergo surgical treatment for gender dysphoria and replacing it with a statement from a licensed medical provider attesting that the person has undergone treatment appropriate for a gender transition. The legislation also requires that amended birth certificates not contain any marks indicating they were amended, and that the original birth certificate with the incorrect gender be sealed and filed away, only to be reopened either by a court order or at the request of the individual to whom the certificate applies.

Six other states — California, Oregon, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington state, as well as the jurisdictions of the District of Columbia and New York City, which issues its own birth certificates — have either passed similar legislation or enacted department-level regulations that eliminate the surgical requirement for changing one’s birth certificate. A similar bill passed the Maryland General Assembly and is awaiting Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) signature, while a measure in Colorado was defeated and a third measure, in Connecticut, is still working its way through the legislature.

Arli Christian, policy counsel for the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) who works with various state-level advocates to modernize name change laws and regulations governing the procurement of identity documents that correctly reflect one’s gender identity, said that her organization worked closely with state-level organizations, including a birth certificate modernization working group. Together, they proposed language that would eliminate the surgical requirements, which can be costly and burdensome, and allow transgender people to retain their privacy rather than having to “prove” it before a judge.

“Putting the process into the hands of patients and physicians is more appropriate,” Christian said of the change. She recommended that Ige sign the bill into law, something she expects him to do as a result of conversations had with on-the-ground activists.

Although there was a proposed amendment to the bill that sought to require transgender individuals to obtain a court order before changing their birth certificates, the state-level groups and NCTE worked with the state attorney general’s office to explain why the court order requirement posed an undue burden to those seeking to change their birth certificates. Of the other states that have eliminated the surgical requirement, only Oregon currently requires a court order before changing one’s gender on a birth certificate.

“This is a particularly important process to make sure transgender individuals have access to identity documents and reduce the discrimination that transgender individuals may face,” Christian said.

The National LGBTQ Task Force issued its own statement celebrating the bill’s passage, noting that 90 percent of transgender people have experienced discrimination, harassment or mistreatment.

“For transgender people who don’t have identification that truly corresponds to their gender identity, applying for a job, registering for school, and checking into a hotel while on vacation can be scary, embarrassing, and an impossible process,” Kylar Broadus, the director of the Task Force’s Transgender Civil Rights Project, said. “Hawaii legislature’s removal of the unnecessary and expensive surgery requirement was very important and the right thing to do. A medical procedure doesn’t determine one’s gender identity. This bill continues the momentum around the globe to allow transgender people to live their lives openly and authentically. We urge Governor Ige to sign this measure into law.”

Editor’s Note: This post was updated to remove Iowa from the list of states with updated birth certificate requirements. While some organizations include Iowa in their count due to a reading of its statute, the National Center for Transgender Equality does not consider Iowa’s process to be “modernized,” as officials in Iowa, in practice, still ask for a notarized affidavit from both a physician and a surgeon who can attest that the person in question has undergone surgery. 

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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