Trans Lawsuit Challenges NYC Surgery Requirement
BY Julie Bolcer
March 22 2011 10:05 AM ET
The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund has filed the first lawsuit challenging New York City’s requirement that transgender people undergo surgery before they can be issued birth certificates with corrected sex designations.
In separate suits filed in New York State supreme court, three transgender plaintiffs charge the city of New York and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene with enforcing an arbitrary requirement that subjects them to harassment and discrimination in violation of the city’s human rights law. The complaints, which are expected to be consolidated and heard together, represent the first suit of its kind in the country to challenge such a requirement.
"A birth certificate is a fundamental form of identification," said Noah Lewis, staff attorney at the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, in a news release. "By refusing to give transgender people accurate birth certificates that reflect who they are, the city subjects transgender people to harassment and discrimination in areas like employment where ID is essential to proving eligibility to work."
The plaintiffs, all from New York, are Sam Berkley, a transgender man, and two transgender women, Joann Prinzivalli and Patricia Harrington. Each sought a corrected birth certificate and submitted medical documentation, but because they had not undergone the specific surgical procedures required by the city, they were denied updated and accurate birth certificates.
Lewis told The Advocate that part of the problem is lack of transparency from the city about the surgical requirements. Other birth certificate applicants, like people who report a clerical error, receive clear guidelines.
“They don’t write down what exactly is required before you submit your application,” said Lewis, adding that the organization has fielded many complaints about the issue. “Based on reports given to us by people who have tried to change this, we believe it is vaginoplasty and phalloplasty.”
However, most transgender applicants have not undergone the extensive procedures because of financial constraints or medical inappropriateness. Prinzivalli said the surgery was not possible in her case.
"This policy is unfair to me and to other transgender people who just want ID that matches who we are," she said in the news release.
The suit will be announced in a press conference in lower Manhattan late Tuesday morning. Lewis said they hope for a response from the city by June.