New York State updates birth certificate policy, but obstacles remain for those born in NYC

The Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF), in conjunction with a coalition that includes the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and Empire State Pride Agenda among others, has announced that the policy on correcting birth certificates for transgender people has lifted the requirement for proof of surgery in New York State. That is, the State of New York now requires only an affidavit from a licensed healthcare provider that indicates a transgender individual has received clinical treatment.

Until now, birth certificate alterations required medical records with documentation of specific surgeries, a psychological report, and a statement from a physician regarding hormone treatments. Many transgender people opt out of, and are denied access to, surgery or hormone therapy for various reasons, and even for those who do decide to undergo the process, they can be left without accurate identification for a very long time.

Michael Silverman, Executive Director of TLDEF, says about the policy change:

This is tremendous news for transgender people across the country who were born in New York State…A birth certificate is a fundamental form of identification. This will ensure that transgender people can obtain accurate birth certificates that reflect who they are. It also means they will stop being subjected to harassment and discrimination in areas like employment where identification is essential to proving eligibility to work.

The Empire State Pride Agenda has stated:

The policy, which hadn’t been changed since the 1970s, now reflects current medical best practices and federal precedents, and brings the process into line with existing agencies protocols such as the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, the U.S. Department of State, the Social Security Administration, among others.

Despite this victory, there is still work ahead with birth certificate policy – amendments to the policy do not apply to New York City, which issues its own birth certificates.

Silverman says:

It is time for New York City to follow the lead of New York State by adopting policies that treat transgender New Yorkers fairly and equally. Transgender people in New York City cannot be denied the right to update their birth certificates to reflect who they truly are simply because they were born within New York City rather than elsewhere in the state. That is unfair, and we will continue to prosecute our lawsuit demanding change until all transgender people in New York State – including those in New York City – are treated fairly.

The lawsuit Silverman cites refers to TLDEF's pending lawsuit against the City of New York and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene challenging the city's recognition of transgender people's self-identified gender only when it aligns with surgical status. 

In addition to extending the new birth certificate policy to New York City, other hurdles for fair treatment of transgender New Yorkers remain. New York state still has not adopted GENDA, which would protect transgender people from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression. Furthermore, New York Medicaid continues to deny coverage for transgender healthcare, even as non-trans people who qualify for the program receive those same treatments for different reasons.  

To read TLDEF's announcement, click here.