NYS Opens Birth Certificate Gender Changes to Minors

tish james
New York State Attorney General Letitia James has implemented a new policy allowing individuals of all ages to update the gender marker on their birth certificate without the need for medical certification.
New York City Council/ William Alatriste

In response to a federal lawsuit, New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced a new policy March 10 allowing minors born in the state to update the gender marker on their birth certificate so it aligns with their gender identity.

The policy, not to be confused with laws and policies already in place for birth certificates issued in New York City, also removes another hurdle: adults, as well as minors, who seek to update the gender marker on their birth certificates no longer need to go through a doctor.

Transgender and non-binary folks previously had to wait until they were at least 18 years old to change the gender marker on their birth certificates. The old policy also required adults seeking to change their birth certificates to provide affidavits from medical professionals attesting to their gender transition. (Until 2014, the requirement was that an individual had undergone gender confirmation surgery.)

Under the new policy, which went into effect immediately, medical professionals are removed from the process altogether and people born in the state can seek to change the gender marker on their birth certificate at any age. Those who are 16 years of age or younger can request a change as long as a parent or guardian signs an application and a notarized affidavit affirming the youth’s gender identity, while adults can request a change by similarly submitting a signed application with a notarized affidavit and providing it to the State Department of Health’s Bureau of Vital Records.

Those who also wish to legally change their name can note that on the application form, as well.

The policy change came in response to a lawsuit by MHW, a boy who was born in upstate Ithaca and currently lives in Texas. The boy received gender-affirming care and a Texas court allowed him to update his name and gender identity on official documents. When he sought to change the gender marker on his New York birth certificate, he ran into a roadblock when his parents were told the state did not allow minors to do that. Lambda Legal, who is representing MHW, proceeded to file the lawsuit in New York last month.

“Thanks to the brave determination of this young man, New York State has made the right decision and changed its policy to allow minors to obtain birth certificates that accurately reflect their gender identity,” James said in a written statement. “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. In New York State, we will not allow an outdated policy to stop us from providing every individual with equal dignity and respect.”

MHW also reacted to the new policy, calling it “awesome.”

“Now all my identity paperwork matches, and I can go forward not having to worry about legal documents conflicting with who I am again,” he said in a written statement. “I get to just go on being me.”

City law had already allowed adults — and minors, with permission from a parent or guardian — to update their birth certificates to reflect their gender identity without requiring any supporting medical documentation. But one difference is that the state policy allows 17-year-olds to request a change to their birth certificates without approval from a parent or guardian, while the city law requires permission for anyone under 18. That difference will not matter, according to a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, who told Gay City News that the state policy is effective everywhere, including in New York City.

However, the policy is merely a policy and could be subject to change under different executive leadership in the state. Out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman of Manhattan and State Assemblymember Felix Ortiz of Brooklyn are aiming to etch the policy into law and further reform the state’s approach to legal documents regarding gender identity. Their bill, dubbed the Gender Recognition Act, would add an “X” gender marker option denoting a non-binary gender identity — as is already available for birth certificates in New York City — remove medical affidavit requirements for gender marker changes, allow minors 16 and younger to change their gender marker with their parent or guardian’s permission, do away with a requirement that name changes be made public, and allow parents to update their own names on their child’s birth certificate and identify themselves as “father,” “mother,” or “parent.”

“While the Trump Administration continues their unprecedented attack on LGBTQ rights, New York has a clear message for our transgender youth: you are valued, you are loved, and you deserved to be treated with respect,” Hoylman said in a written statement following James’ announcement.