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Task Force testifies in support of modernizing birth certificate changes in D.C.

May 16, 2013
Task Force Transgender Civil Rights Project Director Lisa Mottet testifies at the DC City Council hearing.

Task Force Transgender Civil Rights Project Director Lisa Mottet testifies in support of the Deoni Jones Birth Certificate Equality Amendment Act of 2013.

The Task Force today testified at a joint hearing of two committees of the D.C. Council in support of a bill that would modernize the process for transgender people to get legal name changes and new birth certificates reflecting their gender identity and new name (if applicable).

The Task Force’s Transgender Civil Rights Project has been working with DC Trans Coalition hand-in-hand for over a year to get this bill introduced with all of the D.C. Council members signed on in support of it. We are now working to refine the text before passage, with the hope that after the bill passes it can be a model for other jurisdictions.

The following is the testimony of Lisa Mottet, Transgender Civil Rights Project director:

Joint Hearing on the Deoni Jones Birth Certificate Equality Amendment Act of 2013

May 16, 2013, 11am

Testimony of Lisa Mottet, Esq.
Transgender Civil Rights Project Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund

Good morning Councilmembers Alexander and Wells, thank you for the opportunity to speak today in favor of the Deoni Jones Birth Certificate Equality Amendment Act of 2013.

My name is Lisa Mottet and I serve as the Transgender Civil Rights Project director at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund, here in Washington, D.C. In this role, I have assisted numerous vital records agencies in modernizing their laws or policies related to updating gender markers on birth certificates, and it has been my pleasure to meet with the many supportive Council members and their staffs on this bill already.

For all of the reasons that others are speaking to and will speak to today, the Task Force is in full support of the intent and spirit of this legislation, which is to make life better for transgender people by easing and modernizing the processes of getting legal name change orders and updated birth certificate documentation that reflects who they are. The importance of getting a legal name change order and updated documents like birth certificates cannot be overstated, as the lack of them can result in harassment, discrimination, and even violence. Having these documents can mean the difference between being able to get a job or not, being able to be respected in school or not, and being rejected when applying for housing or not.

One of the primary motivations for seeking this legislation is to get rid of the requirement that transgender people show they have had surgery in order to update their birth certificate. Several other states have already done this, including California, Vermont and Washington state. In addition, the U.S. Department of State has abandoned their surgery requirement for both passports and Consular Reports of Birth Abroad, which are given to U.S. citizens born outside of the U.S. D.C. will be following the footsteps of these other jurisdictions when it passes this bill.

However, the text of the draft bill should be improved in several ways so that the spirit and intention are met by the final legislation as passed. There are seven relatively modest but important changes we seek:

First, we ask for the full deletion of Section 217(d) which required proof of surgery and a court order. Though you are setting up a more modern and streamlined process through the department of health, keeping this old provision essentially boils down to keeping this problematic language from the past. There is no reason to keep it. Without it, we can look with pride in our new law.

Second, the new portions should be located in §7-210, the new birth certificate section, not in §7-217, the amended birth certificate section. This is really a matter of clear drafting so that implementation is more smooth.

Third, the reference to a health care provider being licensed only in DC is overly limiting because so many people are born in D.C. but move away, or see providers in the surrounding area.

Fourth, the language of §7-217(d-1)(B) should be changed to “the individual has undergone surgical, hormonal, or other treatment appropriate for the individual,” deleting the term “medical” because it is confusing, and making clear what treatment was appropriate is based on that individual, not some universal standard. That is the way the medical consensus understands gender transition – that it is individual – and our laws should reflect that consensus.

Fifth, the bill should include language that ensures people with intersex conditions are also able to receive new birth certificates. The language should read “…a gender transition, or that an individual has an intersex condition, and that in the health care provider’s professional opinion the individual’s gender designation should be changed accordingly.”

Sixth, switching gears to name changes, the name change publication requirement should be eliminated entirely. The non-transgender community should have the same rights as the transgender community to not have their name change published. In addition, to require a transgender person to integrate that information into the name change process exposes them to more outing in the courthouse, and potentially everywhere they have to show their name change order for the rest of their lives. D.C. should join the 18 states that have no publication requirement for name changes.

Seventh, those who are born in other states or countries, but who now live in D.C., sometimes need court orders to change their birth certificates in those other places. Many of these agencies will accept a court order from courts outside of their state. Thus, we want to clarify that a D.C. Superior Court judge can issue an order asking the person’s birth state/foreign jurisdiction to amend the gender marker on the person’s birth certificate. Relatedly, the bill should empower Superior Court judges to issue a legal order that a person has changed gender, in case a person wants one for various reasons.

We hope that you will be able to make these changes to ensure that transgender people are able to live their lives authentically and without the burden of having government documents that out them, which can cause harassment, discrimination, and even violence.

Thank you. I can be reached at lmottet@thetaskforce.org and 202. 639.6308.

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