State Legislature Passes Gender Recognition Act

State Senator Brad Hoylman of Manhattan is lead sponsor of the Gender Recognition Act in the upper house.

Both chambers of the State Legislature passed a bill allowing New Yorkers to update their state IDs and birth certificates with a gender-neutral “x” designation while also waiving a rule requiring name changes to be published in newspapers.

The Gender Recognition Act, led by out gay lawmakers Brad Hoylman, the lead sponsor in the upper house, and Daniel O’Donnell, the lead sponsor in the lower chamber, cleared the State Senate on June 8 and the State Assembly on June 10. It now goes to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s desk.

Under the Gender Recognition Act, trans and non-binary New Yorkers would no longer feel constrained to conform to a binary gender on their state-issued ID and would not be required to present a doctor’s note to change their gender marker on their ID. Notably, the bill waives an outdated policy that forced individuals to publish their legal name change in a newspaper. Some judges have already waived these requirements, but only on a case-by-case basis.

The birth certificate provision also solidifies a policy in place in New York State that allows minors to update their birth certificate. That policy, however, is subject to change depending on who is in power, and this bill would etch the policy into law — though New York City law already allows folks to update birth certificates with an “x” gender marker.

Upon the bill’s passage in the upper chamber, Hoylman marked the moment as a step towards affirming trans and non-binary people in all aspects of public life.

 “Each and every New Yorker should be recognized for who they are by their government,” Hoylman said. “But today, it remains incredibly hard for many New Yorkers to get the identification documents they require for travel, to get a job, and even to go to school. This bill will change that, making it easier for gender non-conforming, transgender, non-binary, and intersex New Yorkers — including minors — to get IDs that accurately reflect their identity.”

Shortly after the bill cleared the Assembly, O’Donnell paid tribute to the advocates who pushed the bill forward.

“Today is a proud day for New York State, as we secure our standing as a leader in LGBTQ rights and ensure that transgender, non-binary, and intersex New Yorkers have the equality and dignity they deserve,” O’Donnell said. “No one should face overwhelming financial, medical, and bureaucratic barriers simply to have their existence officially recognized. These obstacles only serve to make people’s lives harder and more dangerous, particularly for trans New Yorkers of color who too often have limited resources, face disproportionate rates of violence, and are already marginalized by our legal system. I am deeply honored to carry this important bill and thank all of the trans, non-binary, and intersex advocates who have worked tirelessly to shape and support it.”

Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell carries the Gender Recognition Act in the Assembly.Twitter/Danny_ODonnell

There was already legal pressure on the state to take action. Represented by Lambda Legal, an individual named Sander Saba sued Governor Andrew Cuomo and DMV Commissioner Mark Shroeder last year because they were forced to misrepresent their gender on their driver’s license. In April of this year, the state moved to toss the case as moot, saying they were addressing the issue, but US District Judge Lewis J. Liman rejected that argument and would not dismiss the case.

“Lambda Legal applauds the passage of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA), an important and long-awaited bill we have strongly supported for years,” said Ethan Rice, a senior attorney with Lambda Legal’s Fair Courts Project. “We helped to draft an initial version of this bill that updates the protocols around correcting identity documents for transgender and non-binary New Yorkers in order to help them navigate life without having to fear or risk discrimination and harassment.”

Andy Marra, who is the executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF), said TLDEF also worked to secure key elements of the bill, including waiving the requirement for medical documentation as well as the removal of the publication requirement in newspapers.

“Along with our colleagues at the Empire Justice Center and the Gender Recognition Act Coalition, TLDEF worked closely with state lawmakers to craft some of the most inclusive legislation to date,” Marra said in an email. “This bill can now serve as a model for other states across the country.”

The Empire Justice Center, which provides training and legal services to attorneys, offers civil legal assistance, and works on policy initiatives, described the bill as one that has a broader impact beyond updating legal documents.

“This bill is not just about securing documents that reflect our identities as transgender, nonbinary, or intersex people,” Eòghann Renfroe, the group’s policy and communications manager, said in a written statement. “It’s about securing our safety, our housing, our education, our health — in all the situations and places where that little ID card or scrap of paper is between us and what we need to survive and thrive.”

Trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals often struggle to obtain IDs and other legal documents that match their gender identity or expression. Findings from the 2015 US Transgender Survey revealed 12 percent of trans respondents in New York had an ID that reflected their correct name and gender, while 63 percent did not. The  survey found that respondents were more likely to be harassed or assaulted if they did not have an ID that aligned with their gender expression.

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