California Streamlines Birth Certificate Updates for Transgenders

Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, has signed legislation that simplifies the steps transgender Californians must take to obtain a new birth certificate reflecting their gender, requiring them merely to provide medical certification they have undergone “clinically appropriate treatment.”

Noting that medical professionals need not spell out the specifics of that treatment, Masen Davis, executive director of San Francisco’s Transgender Law Center, said the Vital Statistics Modernization Act, signed October 9 by Brown, “eliminates outdated and onerous barriers that transgender people face when trying to update their IDs. Having identity documents that match who we truly are is critical to our ability to work, travel, and thrive.”

Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, a Long Beach Democrat who wrote the new law, said, “The government belongs to transgender people as much as it belongs to anyone else. California’s records belong to Californians. It’s as simple as that.”

New York’s Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, in a press release, noted that it has sued the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene challenging the city’s requirement that transgender people undergo surgery before obtaining birth certificates with corrected sex designations. The suit alleges that the city’s surgical requirement is arbitrary and that it subjects transgender people to harassment and discrimination in violation of the city Human Rights Law.

In late 2006, the health department recommended modification to the surgery requirement for birth certificate changes, only to later pull back the proposal after public hearings were held –– despite the fact that the hearings produced virtually unanimous support for liberalizing existing policy. Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, who was then the city health commissioner and now heads up the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, acknowledged “we were at fault” for the mixed signals, but in comments to Gay City News offered very little by way of clarification about the change in course.

Advocates in California and New York noted that the new policy Brown approved follows new guidelines from the US State Department for amending passports.