New York City Council Pushes for Easier Path to Changing Gender on Birth Certificate

New York City Council Pushes for Easier Path to Changing Gender on Birth Certificate

NYC Pushes for Easier Path to Changing Gender on Birth Certificate
November 10, 2014

When the Obama administration eased passport regulations to allow sex designation to change without surgery, Melissa Sklarz thought she would finally be able to travel outside of the country. But after a long process involving doctor’s notes, websites that crashed, and a visit to the New York City Bureau of Records, the director of the New York Trans Rights Organization still received a passport labeling her as a man.

“You will not find a transsexual person in New York more politically involved and aware than myself,” Sklarz said. “Yet if an outdated birth certificate can stop me from completing a transition that effectively ended years ago, what happens to other people not as involved in policy as me?”

The New York City Council’s Committee on Health heard testimony Monday from Sklarz and more than a dozen others on a law that would remove barriers to changing one’s sex on birth certificates issued by New York City. Local Law 491 would eliminate the sex reassignment surgery requirement, instead asking for an affidavit from a health care professional stating the applicant’s sex designation does not match their gender identity.

Transgender New Yorkers and advocates spoke for over an hour in the City Council chambers on the issue, many sharing deeply personal testimony about the struggles caused by a mismatch between documents and personal identity. Tiffany Mathieu, representing the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Community Center, spoke of being denied healthcare coverage and welfare benefits “because they said my gender marker on my birth certificate didn’t match my ID."

And Bahar Akyurtlu, speaking for Gays and Lesbians of Bushwick Empowered and Make the Road New York, argued against the surgery requirement. “Surgical interventions are extremely expensive, not readily accessible in most parts of the country (including New York State), and are intensely physically demanding processes, which makes surgery wholly unreasonable as a mandatory bureaucratic procedure,” Akyurtlu testified.

New York City keeps separate records than the rest of the state, and those born outside of the five boroughs can already change the sex marker without the surgery requirement since a law passed at the state level this summer. The proposed law would bring City Hall in line with Albany—a rare situation, said Empire State Pride Agenda’s Matthew McMorrow.

“New York State, historically several steps behind New York City on important civil rights issues, now has a more progressive policy on this particular issue that New York City,” he said to the Committee, chaired by Councilman Corey Johnson, who sponsored the bill.

Johnson, who is openly gay, is ending his first year in the City Council representing the district vacated by former Speaker Christine Quinn on the west side of Manhattan and has continued in her footsteps as an advocate for LGBT-rights. This law differs slightly Albany’s version, avoiding language referencing “medical treatment” in order to distance the council from the notion that transgender is a “disorder.” It is also being paired with Local Law 492, creating an advisory board to discuss the gender marker change requirement.

Advocates were optimistic the law would easily pass, and Akyurtlu was not afraid to share hopes for the future.

 “While it might seem like a small thing to others,” she said, “being recognized for who are has enormous personal value and gives a small modicum of control in a world that is all too ready to judge us.”

Jeff Coltin
Jeff Coltin
is a staff reporter at City & State. He covers New York City Hall.