ALBANY New York state will no longer require transgender people to offer proof of surgery when they ask to change the gender on their birth certificate, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration announced Thursday, though the change won't apply to certificates issue in New York City.
The state's Department of Health will now issue revised birth certificates if people submit affidavits from medical providers stating they have received treatment for gender dysphoria. The change had long been sought by transgender advocates who said the old policy made it hard for transgender people to get jobs, enroll in school or apply for government benefits because their birth certificate didn't match their identity.
"This is significant news for many New Yorkers who remain vulnerable without matching identification documents," said Dru Levasseur, transgender rights project director at Lambda Legal. "... Having accurate documentation is necessary to people's lives, from employment to school to housing. These policy changes will have a real impact."
Federal agencies and four states have already enacted similar policy changes. New York's Department of Motor Vehicles has allowed transgender residents to change the gender on their licenses without proof of surgery since 1987.
The new state policy won't affect New York City, however, because the city issues its own birth certificates.
"It is time for New York City to follow the lead of New York state by adopting policies that treat transgender New Yorkers fairly and equally," said Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, which has filed a lawsuit challenging the city's policy.
A message seeking comment from the city's health department was not immediately returned Thursday.
The state's former policy, which required detailed surgical records, dated to the 1970s. Critics said many transgender people don't have sex-reassignment surgery for financial, medical or other reasons. They ran into difficulties when submitting their original birth certificate when filling out employment paperwork, or when applying for government documents or benefits.
According to the state, since 1990 individuals have filed more than 500 applications to change their birth certificates that were deemed incomplete because they didn't submit the required information. Others likely never tried because of the old policy.
Surgery is no longer a requirement to change your gender on a U.S. passport or with the Social Security Administration.
Most states require a court order and evidence of surgery before a person can change the gender on their birth certificates, though California, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, Iowa and the District of Columbia now accept affidavits confirming nonsurgical treatments.
A similar proposal in New Jersey was vetoed this year by Gov. Chris Christie.