Transgender North Carolinians see legal victories on birth certificates, health coverage

Transgender North Carolinians see legal victories on birth certificates, health coverage

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Transgender people born in North Carolina can now change the gender marker on their birth certificates without undergoing medical transition, according to a consent judgment in a federal law suit issued Wednesday.

The lawsuit, filed last year by Lambda Legal, Baker Botts LLP and Brooks Pierce McLendon Humphrey & Leonard, challenged state restrictions on how transgender North Carolinians can change their gender markers.

Many transgender people do not choose to have any surgery or to medically transition. They say requirements that they do so don’t reflect the reality of transgender peoples’ lives.

This week’s judgment means the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and other state officials and agencies will have to provide birth certificates reflecting an applicant’s sex, consistent with their gender identity, without their having to undergo any surgery.

“This is a victory for all transgender people born in North Carolina that will help enable them to navigate life with safety and dignity,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, counsel at Lambda Legal, in a statement Thursday. “We are gratified by North Carolina state officials’ agreement to reverse North Carolina’s policy prohibiting so many transgender people born in North Carolina from having accurate birth certificates. This lawsuit was just the latest step in our nationwide battle to break down barriers for transgender people to access accurate identity documents.”

Under the judgment a transgender person born in North Carolina can change the sex designation on their birth certificate through submitting a sworn statement along with a passport or driver’s license or a certification from a licensed healthcare professional, social worker or case manager confirming their gender identity.

The suit involved three plaintiffs born in North Carolina but unable to change their markers under the surgery requirement: Lillith Campos, an adult, and two minor teenagers: C.B., through parent Shelley K. Bunting; and M.D., through parent Katheryn Jenifer.

“I’m glad that my daughter will be able to correct and align all her documentation that will allow her to avoid discrimination or exclusion at school, college, sports, or government agencies,” said Katheryn Jenifer in a statement. “No child or family should have to go through this trauma just because the government doesn’t want to recognize transgender people for who they are.”

In her own statement Campos called the surgical requirement “outrageous and dehumanizing.”

“We should all agree that everyone deserves accurate and accessible identity documents that allow us to go through life and run errands with safety, dignity and respect,” Campos said.“I’m pleased to see this day happening, that the State of North Carolina now must recognize us for who we are.”

According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, almost one-third of transgender individuals 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 individuals also are disproportionately targeted for hate crimes.

The judgment is the second significant legal victory for transgender people this month.

Earlier this month, a federal judge in Winston-Salem a federal judge ruled in favor of plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s exclusion of gender-affirming health care for transgender state employee under the state health plan.

Policy Watch reported extensively on that suit and related issues when the suit was filed in 2019.

One of the plaintiffs, Julie McKeown, is an assistant professor in the College of Education at N.C. State University.

In a statement on the victory, she said it sent “a powerful message of validation to the entire transgender community in North Carolina.”

“After years of fighting for fair treatment, finally having a court decide that these healthcare exclusions are wrong is vindicating,” she said. “As government employees, all we want is equal access to healthcare, but we were denied just because we are transgender.”