Trans-identifying teen sues New York to change sex on birth certificate

Transgender activists and their supporters rally in support of transgender people on the steps of New York City Hall, in New York City, October 24, 2018.
Transgender activists and their supporters rally in support of transgender people on the steps of New York City Hall, in New York City, October 24, 2018. | Getty/Drew Angerer

A trans-identifying teenager is suing the state of New York to change the sex listed on her birth certificate.

In 2014, the Empire state enacted a law that allows adults to change the sex listed on their birth certificate but does not extend that right to residents 18 years old and younger. 

The teenager is being represented by LGBT rights group Lambda Legal which argues in the lawsuit that forbidding a minor to change their sex on legal documents “violates the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal dignity, equal protection of the laws, fundamental rights to privacy, liberty, and autonomy, and freedom of speech.” 

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“Possessing accurate identification documents that are consistent with a person’s gender identity — a person’s core internal sense of their own gender — is essential to their basic social and economic well-being,” the lawsuit reads.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose office is being sued in the legal action, appears to be supportive of the teenager.

“From passing GENDA [Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act], to outlawing conversion therapy and eliminating the so-called ‘trans panic’ defense, New York has always been at the forefront of protecting and advancing the civil rights of transgender and gender nonconforming people,” Peter Ajemian, senior deputy communications director for the governor's office, said in a statement.

“We are deeply sympathetic to the situation as it has been described to us and are reviewing this lawsuit.”

Born in Ithaca, New York, the high school student is female but identifies as male and now resides in Houston, Texas. The teen believes New York's law barring children and teenagers from changing their sex on a birth certificate is a violation of their rights.

“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,” the teen, who is identified as M.H.W., said in a statement.

The teenager's Social Security records, passport, and other identity documents have already been changed.

Only a handful of states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Washington — allow transgender-identifying minors to alter their sex marker on their birth records, according to Lambda Legal.

Meanwhile, James Shupe, who once identified as transgender and was the first person to ever obtain a legal "nonbinary" gender status, now says it was "psychologically harmful" and successfully petitioned the same court to let him correct the sex listed on his birth certificate, changing it back to "male," his original sex. 

Filing lawsuits to change the sex listed on government documents is just one tool the transgender movement is employing as it pushes gender identity activism.

Critics say that at the root of this and other conflicts occurring around the country over transgender issues is the legal redefinition of "sex" to mean something other than its biological basis. The precise definition of "gender identity" is not known, and when added as a civil rights category to the legal code, it undermines protections based on biological sex, some feminists and others continue to maintain. Unlike sex, an immutable trait, no brain imaging scan, blood test, or genetic marker has ever indicated the presence of an innate and durable gender identity.

As it pertains to minors, another question at the center of the debate over transgenderism is whether those who identify as trans are capable of giving informed consent, particularly when their bodies are being used as experiments by giving them puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones.

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