The transgender community is trying to gain recognition on paper for their “lived sexual identity,” according to a lawsuit filed in March of 2011. A lawsuit was filed last year demanding the right to change birth certificates to reflect a transgendered person’s current “lived” gender status.
New York City will amend a person's birth certificate to reflect a sex change, but only if the person has undergone "convertive surgery" on the genitals.
Joann Prinzivalli was born Paul J. Prinzivalli and is one of the people named in the lawsuit. Patricia Harrington, another individual in the lawsuit, explains that the lawsuit is not concerned with societal recognition of her sexual identity, but as a way to circumvent potential harassment and embarrassment, according to the BBC.
"I would just like to get a corrected birth certificate that identifies me, so that when I have to show it for identification I don't automatically become some kind of criminal suspect," said Harrington.
In a 2006 ruling the New York City Department of Mental Health and Hygiene board cited potential impacts on hospitals, schools and jails, and decided to maintain the genital surgery requirement.
"The utilization of sex as a classification method is rational, since it is a straight forward way to ensure that birth records in the City of New York are uniform," lawyers for New York City wrote in a court filing.
New York officials say if it were to allow an individual like Ms. Prinzivalli to obtain a new birth certificate with a different stated sex, it would be "knowingly issuing a false public record.”
"The standard leaves little room for individual interpretation. By simply looking at a baby's genitalia, an individual is able to determine its sex," lawyers for New York City wrote.
Lawyers have tried to have the suit tossed out by arguing that sex, when recorded on a birth certificate, refers to biological and physical characteristics such as the genitals, while the “lived” experience is based on socially constructed gender roles which are a different and separate category.
Yet, Harrington feels that a complete genital change would be too much. "It's personal, it's my privates, it's not necessary. It's a very expensive procedure which I can't afford, and it's got complications. I'm not sexually active. If I was 21 and I could afford it, yeah, but I'm 59."
Birth certificates are a very important document that are used not only as a record of existence but also for many state and federal requirements including; public assistance programs, social security entitlements, proof of citizenship, driver licenses, and even are required when enrolling in school or applying for work in America.
The debate currently surging is not whether transgender people should be allowed to amend identity documents, instead the debate centers on where officials will draw the line between males and females, and when such classification should occur.
Currently birth certificates cannot be changed without major surgery in New York. However, transgender individuals are still able to change the gender on their state identification cards and state driver’s licenses.