New York State Modernizes Policy Around Gender Markers on Birth Certificates

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo aligns process for changing gender markers on New York State birth certificates with existing State and Federal policies.

(Albany, NY)

The Empire State Pride Agenda, New York’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) advocacy organization, along with a network of partner organizations, today welcome a policy change from New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and his administration that removes the surgical requirement for New Yorkers to obtain a gender marker change on their birth certificates.

The policy, which hasn’t changed since the 1970s, reflects current medical best practices and federal precedent, and brings the process up to speed with existing New York State agencies protocols.

This change comes as welcome news to the many New Yorkers that remain vulnerable without matching identification documents. The amended policy will allow a change of gender markers on birth certificates for applicants who provide a certification from a licensed medical provider stating the applicant is undergoing treatment and removes the need for invasive requirements like operating room reports of surgery – which not all transgender people opt to undergo whether for financial, health, or personal reasons – in order to match their documents with their gender identity.

“This is tremendous news for New York and especially for the transgender community, and a great step forward to ensuring many transgender New Yorkers no longer need to undergo a process they not wish to in order to receive an identity document that truly reflects who they are,“ said Empire State Pride Agenda Executive Director Nathan M. Schaefer. “This is an issue we’ve been advocating for the past several years and are grateful for Governor Cuomo’s leadership and the Department of Health for moving us closer to equality and justice for all New Yorkers.”

“Under Governor Cuomo's leadership, New York is reclaiming its rightful place as the progressive capital of the nation and made significant progress to advance the rights of all New Yorkers, including members of the transgender community. Much work remains and this administration is committed to promoting laws and policies that are fair and just for all,” said Alphonso David, Deputy Secretary for Civil Rights for New York State. 

New York joins a number of Federal agencies and states that already offer similar guidelines. 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.

“New York has joined several other states that have already modernized their birth certificate policies in the past several years (District of Columbia, Oregon, Washington and Vermont) as well as the federal government, which started updating its gender marker policies in 2010 to reflect modern understandings of transgender people. Not having an updated birth certificate, or having different genders listed on different pieces of ID, can cause problems in getting a job, enrolling in school, obtaining housing or public benefits, and can cause suspicion from public authorities,” said Deputy Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality Lisa Mottet. “This modernized policy makes it more likely transgender people are able to live their lives on an everyday basis without facing or fearing harassment in everyday transactions. “

“Transgender New Yorkers face discrimination everyday just trying to be who they are,” said New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “We applaud the Department of Health for taking an important step toward a society where the everyday business of being yourself is easier.”

“This is welcome news for transgender people across the country who were born in New York,” said Michael Silverman, Executive Director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund. “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.”

“This policy change is a good first step and we’re pleased this came to a positive conclusion. We’re looking forward to continuing to work together on this and other policies to eliminate the inequities the transgender community faces in New York,” said Rev. Moonhawk River Stone, M.S., LMHC.

In New York State, the Department of Motor Vehicles has been providing gender-appropriate identification cards since 1987, when it eliminated its surgery requirement in favor of a medical certification from a physician, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist attesting to the individual’s affirmed gender. Other states that have amended their policies include: California, District of Columbia, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. More information, including further instructions about the process can be found at the Department of Health’s Bureau of Vital Records at: health.ny.gov/vital_records/birth.htm.

This news comes on the heels of Rochester’s recent announcement that it will extend transition-related healthcare to transgender municipal employees, making it the third city in the U.S. to offer inclusive coverage. The Empire State Pride Agenda continues to fight for the passage of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) to bring New York up to speed with the more than one third of the country that already provides protections on the basis of gender identity and expression. The Pride Agenda commends the New York State Assembly for passing GENDA for each of the past several years and will continue to work with the Governor and the State Senate to pass GENDA into law.