The island state of Hawaii, recalled with such love and angst in Janet Mock's memoir Redefining Realness, became more supportive of its trans citizens this week, as the legislature passed a bill making it easier for transgender people to obtain updated birth certificates that reflect their authentic gender.
The state's House and Senate approved legislation Tuesday that would strike a long-standing requirement that trans people provide "proof" of gender-affirming surgery before being able to legally change the gender marker on this critical identifying document, reports the Associated Press. Instead, individuals would need to obtain a note from a doctor explaining that they are trans.
The bill now awaits approval from Hawaii Gov. David Ige. Trans advocates expect the law to be implemented, allowing Hawaii to join at least six other U.S. states in dropping barriers to trans people's legal and social recognition. "This really is the beginning for trans equality," Hawaiitan trans activist Kaleo Ramos told the AP.
Removing surgical barriers to obtaining accurate legal documentation has become a worldwide issue, with parts of Canada as well as the nations of Turkey, Israel, and Taiwan recently relaxing surgery requirements for certain legal documents — though updating birth certificates has often remained more of a sticking point than everyday documents such as driver's licenses and state-issued ID cards. Many advocates have pointed out that such surgeries are often beyond the financial means of transgender people, who often do not have health insurance plans that cover gender-affirming surgeries and are, in the U.S., four to sixtimes more likely than cisgender (nontrans) peers to living below the poverty line.
Groups like trans model Geena Rocero's Gender Proud and Transgender Europe have taken up the fight in nations across the world, arguing that forcing trans citizens to choose between gender recognition and potential sterilization — which occurs in gender-affirming surgeries that include genital reconstruction — is a human rights violation.
Trans citizens without legal identification that reflects their affirmed gender face difficulty in securing employment and housing, and can face social harassment or violence, which may place undue pressure on them to receive surgery sooner, or receive more or different procedures than what's needed in their own gender-affirmation processes.
Supportive government policies can even help reduce the astronomically high rate of suicide attempts among trans citizens, said Rebecca Copeland, a parent advocate with Equality Hawaii. The mother of a 14-year-old trans son, Copeland told the AP, "It's the lack of recognition in society that really hurts people. When people look at [their birth certificate] and it doesn't reflect who they are it can really have devastating consequences."