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New York City
seeks to make gender transitioning easier

New York City
seeks to make gender transitioning easier

New York City wants to make it easier for transgender New Yorkers to switch the sex listed on their birth certificate, an important issue for transgender people in an era when official identity documents have become more essential in everyday life.

Under present city rules, only people who can show proof of a surgery qualify for getting a revised birth certificate. Even then, the only change made is the elimination of any reference to gender on the document.

The new plan, unveiled late last month, would let birth records reflect the new gender for the first time. It would also allow changes for people who haven't had genital surgery but could show substantial proof that they have undertaken other steps to irrevocably alter their gender identity, like undergoing hormone therapy.

The policy change is one that advocates for New York's sizable transgender population have requested for years but which has taken on greater significance in a post-September 11 world.

New Yorkers need to show a picture ID to enter office towers, air terminals, public monuments, and all sorts of government buildings. They need them to apply for a job or buy beer at a neighborhood deli. The trouble comes when someone inspects those documents and notices that a person's listed gender doesn't appear to match the way they look and dress.

"That can be a very dangerous situation for a transgender person," said Cole Thaler, transgender rights attorney for the national legal aid group Lambda Legal. "In today's post-9/11 climate, where everyone is more worried than usual about things like fraud or identity theft, it can be particularly difficult for a transgender person."

Thaler said having a birth certificate with a gender that matches a person's appearance will ease the way to getting other government records, including passports, drivers licenses, and Social Security records.

Lorna Thorpe, deputy commissioner of New York City's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, called the current system "outdated."

"A lot of transgender persons use different techniques to switch genders," she said. Some try hormones. A smaller number undergo surgery--in part because not everyone is medically capable of undergoing the procedure. "Some do neither but essentially make a lifestyle change," Thorpe said.

All but three states now allow people who have had a sex change to get a new birth certificate, and New York City's vital records division has done so since 1971.

New York City now issues about a dozen of the revised birth certificates a year. No estimate was available on how many more might be issued under the new rules, which could be approved by the city's Board of Health as soon as December.

Of the states that allow similar changes to birth certificates, almost all currently require proof of gender-reassignment surgery.

Only one state, Tennessee, has a law expressly prohibiting a change of gender on a birth certificate, but Ohio and Idaho also won't allow the change because of court rulings or as a matter of administrative policy. (AP)

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