Judge Rules Idaho Must Allow Gender Changes On Birth Certificates, But There's Still Work To Be Done
Transgender people face all sorts of discrimination, but one of the biggest obstacles to them getting jobs or performing regular, daily activities like renting apartments, opening bank accounts, or even getting into a club is that their IDs often reflect the gender listed on their birth certificate. Many states have some sort of law that allows changes, but there were a handful of holdouts. But now, after two transgender woman sued, Idaho must now allow gender changes on birth certificates, beginning next month.
Until U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale ruled that the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution on Monday, Idaho was one of just three other states, Kansas, Ohio, and Tennessee, that didn't allow any changes to a birth certificate at all for transgender people.
Dale wrote in her ruling, according to local news outlet KTVB, that there was "no rational government purpose" to forbidding transgender people from changing their birth certificate and actually put them in danger, since they would be forced to disclose that they are transgender when had to hand over identification documents, as reported by the Associated Press. Both of the defendants in the lawsuit said they faced "hostility and harassment" at government offices and even the supermarket when they presented ID that didn't reflect their gender. (Remember, you have to have a birth certificate to get a state ID.)
Dale didn't outline exactly what the new law should say, but she gave the state until April 6 to get one together, and ruled that not only should gender changes be allowed, but that the state couldn't require that the new certificate say that it was amended, as was previously required, according to Boise Weekly.
Though there were exceptions to that rule, according to Lambda Legal, which brought the suit, such as adoptive parents being able to change the birth certificate of their kids without having to document the edit so that kids wouldn't know they were adopted. So Monday's ruling was comprehensive in that it allowed the state to not put a big fat "gender edited" on every amended birth certificate. That's a huge deal. Dale wrote in his ruling, according to The New York Times:
A rule providing an avenue to obtain a birth certificate with a listed sex that aligns with an individual’s gender identity promotes the health, well-being, and safety of transgender people without impacting the rights of others.
One of the good things about the ruling is that Dale took the time to specify and explain the distinction between the sex and gender identity of a person, which is something that many people (including many in the Trump administration) seem to believe that gender and sex are the same thing or a choice. It's not.
Dale specified in the ruling that scientists agree that biological sex is comprised of many factors, including genitals, brain structure, and what hormones are "prevalent," and gender identity is an "intrinsic sense of being male or female," as reported by Time.
The medical community now understands that one's gender identity doesn't always have anything to do with one's biological sex, according to National Geographic. Both of the women in the suit had undergone a transition, according to the AP, which means they had undergone a process of making their internal sense of gender match their outward expression of it. But they shouldn't have had to to to change their gender on their identification docs.
Transitioning can mean many things for different people — it's not always about a gender reassignment surgery or taking hormones. It can also be changing one's name and coming out without any medical procedure, according to GLAAD. That's precisely why the Idaho ruling, along with others states' laws about changing one's gender on their birth certificate still have a long way to go.
Although most states now allow people to change their gender on their birth certificate a lot of them only do so with a court order and/or a doctor's note that proves the person's had a gender reassignment surgery or a "surgical procedure," which again, not every transgender person wants. Or even if they do want it, those surgeries are not often covered by insurance and are very expensive. So it takes a lot of time and money for a transgender person to protect themselves just by having the right gender on their ID, putting them in further danger.
Transgender people are disproportionately more likely to suffer from substance abuse issues, homelessness, and other mental health issues due to discrimination and lack of family and societal acceptance that might prevent them having the money or time to get a surgery if they do want one, according to research from both the Trevor Project and the Trans Equality Center.
The transgender community, especially trans people of color, are also targets of violence — there are a known 26 transgender people murdered in 2017, according to the Human Rights Campaign — which makes having the right ID all the more urgent. You never know when the grocery store clerk or a landlord is going to turn violent after seeing the wrong ID.
So, it's great that there are just three states left to turn (Kansas is currently being sued by the Transgender Law Center, so it's really just Ohio and Tennessee). But until people can change their birth certificate without having to go see a judge or get a surgery, and without having the edits red-flagged, the transgender community is still in danger of facing discrimination every time they leave their home. The Idaho ruling is a victory, for sure. But the fight for LGBTQ equality is a long way from being over.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.