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Following trans teen's suit, minors can now change New York birth certificates

Transgender adults in the state have been permitted to change their birth certificate gender markers since 2014.

New York State will now allow transgender minors to change the gender marker on their birth certificates to reflect their gender identity, instead of their sex assigned at birth.

“Effective immediately, transgender individuals born in New York will have the right to make this deeply personal decision without the government’s unwarranted denial or without having their privacy violated,” New York Attorney General Letitia James announced on Tuesday. “We will not allow an outdated policy to stop us from providing every individual with equal dignity and respect.”

Letitia James
New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks on June 11, 2019.Mary Altaffer / AP file

James’ announcement came just two months after a 14-year-old trans boy, known only as M.H.W., sued the state over its policy barring minors from changing their birth certificate gender marker, which has been legal for adults since 2014. M.H.W. called the new policy “awesome.”

“Now all my identity paperwork matches, and I can go forward not having to worry about legal documents conflicting with who I am again. I get to just go on being me,” he said following the announcement, according to a statement from Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ civil rights group that filed the case on M.H.W.’s behalf.

Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, one of the Lambda Legal attorneys working on M.H.W.’s case, said this week’s announcement is a victory for all transgender people in New York.

“Every person should be recognized and respected for who they are,” Gonzalez-Pagan said in a statement. “It shouldn’t take a minor and his family suing the state to get their rights recognized, but with this announcement, New York State eliminates an outdated and unjust barrier to transgender minors’ ability to be themselves and have accurate, essential identity documents.”

M.H.W. was born in Ithaca, New York, but now resides in Houston, where he attends high school. Assigned female at birth, he began the process of changing his name and gender marker on his various identification documents in Texas last October. Following a Texas district court ruling in his favor, M.H.W. was able to change a number of his official documents, including licenses, certificates and eventually his passport and social security records.

However, M.H.W. and his parents were informed by New York State that it did not allow birth certificate changes for anyone under 18. This inconsistency, they feared, could potentially expose M.H.W. to harassment and discrimination. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, nearly one-third (32 percent) of respondents “who have shown an ID with a name or gender that did not match their gender presentation were verbally harassed, denied benefits or service, asked to leave, or assaulted.” In New York, it's 34 percent, and in Texas, it’s 32 percent.

There is currently a patchwork of laws across the U.S. when it comes to birth certificate gender marker changes. Some states — including New York, California, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Washington — allow both transgender adults and minors to update their birth certificate gender markers, according to Lambda Legal. However, at least two states, Ohio and Tennessee, don’t allow for amending the gender marker on birth certificates at all. Lambda Legal is currently suing Ohio and Tennessee over these policies.

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