New York State has announced it will change its policy prohibiting transgender minors from correcting the gender marker on their birth certificates to match their gender identity.
The announcement comes after the state was sued last month by a transgender boy, M.H.W., who was born in Ithaca, N.Y. but now resides in Houston, Texas. Since undergoing gender-affirming care, M.H.W. has been able to change his gender marker on various identity documents, including his passport and Social Security records. But due to New York’s policy, he has been unable to obtain a birth certificate that matches his gender identity.
In the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, M.H.W.’s lawyers argued that New York State’s policy violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
On Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Attorney General Letitia James (D) announced the change in the state’s birth certificate policy.
Going forward, parents of minors under the age of 16 will be able to request a correction to their children’s birth certificates on their behalf.
Transgender people who were born in New York State, including those who have since moved elsewhere, will also no longer be required to provide a medical affidavit in order to request a gender marker change.
“Effective immediately, transgender individuals born in New York will have the right to make this deeply personal decision without the government’s unwarranted denial or without having their privacy violated,” James said in a statement. “In New York State, we will not allow an outdated policy to stop us from providing every individual with equal dignity and respect.”
“Every person should be recognized and respected for who they area,” Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal who is representing M.H.W., said in a statement. “Today’s announcement is a victory for all transgender people in New York. The actions announced today rid the state of a discriminatory and outdated policy and keeps New York rightly among the states leading the country with policies that respect the lives of transgender people.”
“It shouldn’t take a minor and his family suing the state to get their rights recognized, but with this announcement, New York State eliminates an outdated and unjust barrier to transgender minors’ ability to be themselves and have accurate, essential identity documents,” Gonzalez-Pagan added. “We are grateful to M.H.W. and his parents for their courage to stand up for what is right and just.”
Since 2014, New York State has allowed people over the age of 18 to correct the gender marker on their birth certificate — so long as they provided proof attesting that they had undergone a gender transition — but categorically prohibited minors from doing so.
Several other states and jurisdictions allow transgender minors to correct their birth certificates to match their gender identity, including New York City, Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts, Alaska, and the District of Columbia.
M.H.W. and his parents, Jennifer Wingard and Michael Sicinski, celebrated the court’s ruling.
“This is the best possible outcome. We are glad that New York State is now committed to letting trans kids be who they are, fully and legally,” Wingar and Sicinski said in a statement. “We want to thank the folks at Lambda Legal for their support throughout this process.”
According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, almost one-third of transgender people who were forced to show an identity document with a name or gender conflicting with their perceived gender report that they were harassed, denied benefits or services, discriminated against, or physically assaulted.
As such, transgender advocates have stressed that it is important for states to amend their laws to allow people to change their gender marker as a matter of public safety.
“This is awesome,” M.H.W. said of the state’s announced policy change. “Now all my identity paperwork matches, and I can go forward not having to worry about legal documents conflicting with who I am again. I get to just go on being me.”
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