March 22, 2011
Transgender Rights Group Files Lawsuit Against New York City Over Refusal to Correct Transgender Birth Certificates
First-Ever Suit Seeks to Ensure Accurate ID for Transgender People by Removing Surgery Requirement
New York, New York – The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund announced today that it has filed a lawsuit against the City of New York and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene challenging the city's practice of requiring transgender people to undergo surgery before it will issue them birth certificates with corrected sex designations. This is the first lawsuit to challenge a surgical requirement for correcting whether someone is classified as "male" or "female" on a birth certificate. It alleges that the city's surgical requirement is arbitrary, and that it subjects transgender people to harassment and discrimination in violation of the New York City Human Rights Law.
The case is brought on behalf of three transgender people born in New York City who have tried to obtain corrected birth certificates. Each submitted medical documentation indicating that the sex designation on their birth certificates is incorrect, but because they have not undergone specific surgical procedures required by the city, officials have refused to provide them with updated, accurate birth certificates.
The vast majority of transgender people have not undergone the extensive surgical procedures demanded by the city before it will change the sex designation on birth certificates. Most cannot afford these procedures, and for many, they are medically inappropriate.
"A birth certificate is a fundamental form of identification," said Noah Lewis, staff attorney at the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF), which is representing the plaintiffs. "By refusing to give transgender people accurate birth certificates that reflect who they are, the city subjects transgender people to harassment and discrimination in areas like employment where ID is essential to proving eligibility to work."
Sam Berkley, one of the plaintiffs, is a transgender man. Despite having undergone hormone therapy and surgery, the city has refused to change his birth certificate from female to male because he has not had the specific form of surgery that the city requires. "I've known since I was 5 years old that I'm male," said Mr. Berkley. "I've undergone medical treatment as part of my transition and the medical documentation I submitted from my doctor should be sufficient to get my birth certificate corrected. Until it's corrected, I fear that I'll be subjected to harassment and discrimination whenever I need to present my birth certificate," he added.
Joann Prinzivalli, a second plaintiff, has a similar story. Despite being labeled male at birth, Joann knew from earliest childhood that she was a girl. "As a very young child, I desperately wanted to grow my hair long to look like all the other girls. But my parents always insisted that I get my hair cut, and I dreaded that," said Ms. Prinzivalli. "I am a woman. My birth certificate was incorrect when it was filled out, and it is still incorrect today," she added.
Ms. Prinzivalli would like to have the surgery that the city requires in order to change her birth certificate, but it has been ruled out by her doctors for medical reasons. "This policy is unfair to me and to other transgender people who just want ID that matches who we are," she added.
The third plaintiff, Patricia Harrington, had a long journey before being able to live as her true self. "When I was very young, I was bullied and harassed for behaving like a girl, and I learned very quickly that I would need to suppress my true identity to get through life," Ms. Harrington said. "It wasn't until I was forty years old that I finally started to live freely as a woman. It's been a long journey, and it's important to me that the City correct my birth certificate so that I can present ID that reflects who I am today.”
"Proper ID is essential for full participation in society," added Mr. Lewis of TLDEF. "As long as the City discriminates against transgender people by denying them accurate ID, transgender people will continue to be pushed to the margins of society."
The cases are JOANN PRINZIVALLI v. THOMAS FARLEY in his official capacity as HEALTH COMMISSIONER OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK CITY BUREAU OF VITAL STATISTICS, NEW YORK CITY OFFICE OF VITAL RECORDS, NEW YORK CITY BOARD OF HEALTH, NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND MENTAL HYGIENE, and THE CITY OF NEW YORK, Supreme Court, New York County, No. 114372/2009;
and SAM BERKLEY v. THOMAS FARLEY in his official capacity as HEALTH COMMISSIONER OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK CITY BUREAU OF VITAL STATISTICS, NEW YORK CITY OFFICE OF VITAL RECORDS, NEW YORK CITY BOARD OF HEALTH, NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND MENTAL HYGIENE, and THE CITY OF NEW YORK, Supreme Court, New York County, No. 400715/2011.
A third Complaint will be filed on behalf of Patricia Harrington in the near future. It is anticipated that the three suits will be consolidated and heard together.
Benjamin Edwards, Daniel Gonen, Kapil Longani, and Melissa Weberman serve as co-counsel with TLDEF for Mr. Berkley, Ms. Harrington, and Ms. Prinzivalli.