Politics & Policy

New York Now Allows People to Change the Gender on Their Birth Certificate

The truth can be adjusted.
New York is making it easier to “correct” gender on the historical record of your birth.

Do you wish you had been born as a person of a different gender? Well, if you’re lucky enough to have been born in New York, you can make that so — on paper, at least — without the trouble of undergoing a messy “gender confirmation surgery,” as sex-change operations are fashionably called.

On June 5, New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced that proof of gender-reassignment surgery will no longer be required to change the gender on one’s birth certificate. For official purposes, it will now suffice to have a notarized affidavit from a licensed medical provider that states that the petitioner is undergoing “appropriate treatment” for gender dysphoria, a condition still called gender-identity disorder by the less-than-fully enlightened.

The new policy does not apply to New York City, which operates by its own system of birth records. The rest of New York keeps company with California, Iowa, Oregon, Washington State, Vermont, Washington, D.C., and numerous government agencies, all of which have adopted similar policies.

Nathan M. Schaefer, executive director of Empire State Pride Agenda, expressed gratitude for Cuomo’s administrative action and tells NRO that the change constitutes “a tremendous step forward for transgender equality and justice.” Allowing transgender individuals to acquire “accurate” birth certificates yields tangible benefits when it comes to jobs and housing, he says. But the policy change also has important intangible benefits for transgendered New Yorkers. “It’s hugely symbolic. It’s an indication that our government is acknowledging that we have a large number of residents who identify as transgender, and they have needs that are unique from the general population, and the government is acting to meet those needs.”

Thanks to the policy change, one can envision new vistas of progress on the horizon. Petitioners might one day approach the state requesting a birth certificate with a gender designation outside the traditional male-female dichotomy. 

“I could certainly see that being a reality for someone,” Schaefer says when asked about that possibility. “I haven’t heard yet that anyone has approached the state with that specific concern, but I do anticipate that that will be happening. I mean, the notice [of the current policy] is relatively new in the grand scheme of things; it’s only been a few weeks. So folks are just getting to be aware that this is a reality.” He adds that a more inclusive policy would be “definitely a step forward.”

In February, Facebook introduced 56 new gender options for users, which include “genderqueer,” “pangender,” “two-spirit,” and “Trans-person.” For U.K. users, Facebook now has 71 options, including “polygender,” “M2F,” “T* Person” — and, apparently, “man” and “woman.” A policy that allowed petitioners to select a gender from that much broader array of options would be very inclusive indeed.

California has already taken a step in this direction. Petitioners in the Golden State who are uncomfortable with having either “male” or “female” on their birth certificates have the option of substituting a dash.

Minors represent another frontier. “It only applies to adults over the age of 18,” Schaefer says about the New York policy. “But I can tell you that there is a desire for that to be removed and for it to apply to minors as well. I’ve certainly heard from a number of parents of trans-youth from the state who wish the policy could be applicable to minors as well.”

#page#Supporters of such policies often describe the process of changing the gender on one’s birth certificate as “correction,” rather than “amendment” — language that equates altering a document to match a new gender identity to fixing a clerical error in the original document. A 2011 American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) press release announced a lawsuit “to allow transgender individuals who have not had gender confirmation surgery to correct the gender marker on their birth certificates.”

Language used in government documents sometimes reflects supporters’ terminological preferences. The sample Affidavit to Amend Record provided by the state of California shows two adjacent columns. Under a column labeled “incorrect information that appears on original record,” the name “Martin James” and “Male” is written. An adjacent column labeled “Corrected information as it should appear” shows the name “Mary Jane” and “Female.” 

Some regions’ paperwork reflects concerns about deception. Washington, D.C.,’s Birth Certificate Gender Designation Form includes a sworn statement that must be signed stating that the amended birth certificate “accurately reflects my gender and is not for any fraudulent or otherwise unlawful purpose.” In addition, the medical statement must indicate that the petitioner either has an intersex condition or is serious about transitioning to another gender.

The New York law is somewhat more lax in this regard. It requires that the petitioner be seeking “appropriate treatment” for gender dysphoria but does not specify what that appropriate treatment must be. Nor does it require anyone to attest that “transitioning” is the ultimate goal of the treatment.

Schaefer emphasizes that every transition is unique, and “appropriate treatment” is a matter between doctor and patient. One kind of treatment, though, is definitely not welcome, he says. “Conversion therapy” aimed at convincing gender-dysphoric youths that they are mistaken about their gender identities is, for Schaefer, unacceptable.

Attempts to use therapy as a means of changing a minor patient’s gender identity, gender orientation, or sexual expression are prohibited by so-called gay-conversion bans of the sort ratified in California and New Jersey and rapidly spreading across the U.S.

Schaefer says he is hopeful that the policy of New York State would soon be brought about locally with the cooperation of New York City mayor Bill de Blasio.

— Spencer Case is an intern at National Review.

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