CITY HALL — A proposed law that would allow individuals to change the sex on their birth certificate without having gender reassignment surgery would ease the barrier to basic services such as health care, housing and jobs, transgender advocates said.
"Having this law changed for trans people would be a major step for human rights," said Marco Wylie, 29, a transgender man and computer technician who is a plaintiff in a lawsuit to get the city to change the law.
"It doesn't make sense that you can change your gender and name on every single form of identification, but not on your birth certificate."
"It's made me live in fear," he added Monday after testifying at a City Council hearing.
Under New York City's current health code, transgender individuals who want to change their sex on their birth certificate must undergo gender reassignment surgery or hormone therapy. The rule is based on city health codes adopted more than 40 years ago in 1971.
Under the legislation proposed by Manhattan Councilman Corey Johnson, chairman of the health committee, that requirement would be rescinded and those who wish to change their gender could do so based on a letter from a physician or mental health provider that the change accurately reflects the individual's gender.
"This is about the dignity of transgender men and women and allowing them to have access to the same documents as everyone else," Johnson said.
New York State dropped a similar requirement earlier this year but New York City is responsible for issuing its own birth certificates.
Transgender individuals are already able to change their gender on documents such as a drivers license. But that can create problems when the gender on the birth certificate does not match other identification.
Everything from getting a passport to applying for a job and medical benefits is placed in jeopardy when gender designations on transgender people's documents do not match, advocates for the legislation said.
"Not having the gender marker restricts me from pursuing a decent career," said Tiffany Mathieu, a transgender woman.
"I get scrutinized and deliberately placed into situations that are uncomfortable and confounding when I apply for jobs."
Mathieu said she has been denied Medicaid and other forms of assistance because the "gender marker on my birth certificate didn't match my ID."
Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, said many of the clients his group represents are in deep poverty, with 84 percent reporting an annual income of less than $20,000 and two-thirds receiving Medicaid or other forms of public assistance.
The reality is that many transgender men and women simply can't afford gender reassignment surgery even if they want to get it, he said.
"Many transgender people, for financial, health or other personal reasons, choose not to undergo surgery or hormone therapy. For those who do, the physical transition process can take years to complete, leaving them without matching identification documents for a very long time," said Dr. Frank Proscia, president of the Doctors Council SEIU.
Requiring the surgery is an intrusion on what is a very private process already fraught with obstacles, said transgender men and women testifying before the City Council.
The administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio supports the change. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene proposed an amendment to the New York City health code on Oct. 7 and is doing outreach and will vote on the change next month, said Gretchen Van Wye, assistant commissioner from the Department of Health who called the change "long-needed."
Johnson said he hopes the law will come up for a vote before the end of the year.