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We're Suing New York State for Prohibiting Transgender Minors from Correct Birth Certificates

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January 7, 2020
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Photo by: Ted Eytan

Today Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit challenging New York State’s policy categorically prohibiting transgender minors from correcting the sex designation on their birth certificates – a critically important document for transgender people seeking to navigate through life with accurate government documents.

The minor challenging the policy – identified anonymously by his initials M.H.W. – is a 14-year-old transgender boy born in Ithaca, New York, currently residing in Houston, Texas.

“I am a boy. It’s frustrating to see New York State deny me the opportunity to correct my birth certificate, which I need for so many important facets of my life. My birth certificate incorrectly says I’m female, but that’s not who I am and I need the state to correct that error and respect my identity,” said M.H.W.

“I’m a teenager in high school living in Texas. Having an inaccurate birth certificate can cause the disclosure of my transgender status when I enroll in college classes or when I get my driver’s license, and expose me to possible harm.”

“As parents, we only want what is best for our son. Our son is a boy, but New York State refuses to recognize him as such.” said M.H.W’s mother, Jennifer Wingard.

“We have been able to update our son’s other identity documents, such as his passport and social security records. So we were shocked when the only remaining roadblock came from New York State.”

In 2014, New York began permitting people 18 years of age or older to correct the sex designation on their birth certificates without the need for surgery, but the State categorically prohibits minors from correcting the sex designation on their birth certificates.

“We are afraid that as a result of New York’s policy our son will be exposed to extra scrutiny, humiliation or harassment whenever he has to present his inaccurate and inconsistent birth certificate, such as when he applies for his driver’s license. No person should be forced to identify in a manner inconsistent with who they are,” said M.H.W’s father, Michael Sicinski.

The State’s policy is contrary to that of several other states and jurisdictions that allow transgender minors to correct their birth certificates, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Washington, and even New York City.

“By prohibiting transgender minors from correcting their birth certificates, the State of New York is depriving them of an essential government identity document,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Senior Attorney at Lambda Legal.

“Studies show that having inaccurate identification documents exposes transgender people to discrimination, harassment, and violence. Moreover, transgender minors suffer from higher levels of anxiety, depression and suicide rates when they don’t have a supportive environment.

"By barring transgender youth from having accurate birth certificates, New York is limiting their opportunity to thrive and grow up knowing they are respected as who they are.”

Background

M.H.W. has known he is a boy for years. In consultation with his parents and health care providers, he has undertaken clinically-appropriate gender affirming care in order to bring his body into alignment with his gender identity.

In October 2019, a district court in Texas issued an order to allowing him to change his name to his current more traditionally-associated male name and M.H.W.’s gender is male.

The Texas district court further ordered that M.H.W.’s corrected name and his sex as male be reflected on documents reflecting his identifying information, including licenses, certificates, or other official documents.

M.H.W then obtained a corrected U.S. passport and had his name and sex corrected in his social security records. However, as M.H.W.’s parents prepared to correct his New York State birth certificate, they were informed that the State did not permit such corrections for minors, thereby forcing M.H.W. to carry incongruent identity documents and exposing him to potential harassment and discrimination.

Lambda Legal filed the lawsuit today in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York on behalf of M.H.W., by and through his parents Jennifer Wingard and Michael Sicinski. The court decision, if favorable, could bring forward a policy change statewide.

In addition to today’s lawsuit, Lambda Legal is currently suing the two remaining states in the country – Ohio and Tennessee – to categorically prohibit all transgender people from correcting their birth certificates.

Prior to that, Lambda Legal successfully challenged discriminatory birth certificate policies in Puerto Rico, Idaho, and Kansas.

According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, almost one-third of transgender people who showed an identity document with a name or gender marker that conflicted with their perceived gender were harassed, denied benefits or services, discriminated against or assaulted. Transgender people also are disproportionately targeted for hate crimes.

Handling the case on behalf of Lambda Legal are Senior Attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan and Staff Attorney Carl Charles.