Transgender people in Idaho will be permitted to change their birth certificates following a Monday ruling from a U.S. district court.
Until this week, Idaho was one of four statesincluding Kansas, Ohio, and Tennesseewhich did not allow trans individuals to update their birth certificates to reflect their lived identity. Candy W. Dale, a federal magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho, claimed the policy is both unconstitutional and harmful in a written decision.
“Mismatches between identification documents and outward gender presentation can create risks to the health and safety of transgender people,” Dale wrote.
The advocacy group Lambda Legal filed the case in April 2017 on behalf of “F.V.,” an Idaho-born trans woman whose name and gender identity have been amended on both her driver’s license and Social Security card. But when she contacted the Idaho Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics to revise her birth certificate last year, F.V. was blocked from doing so.
The plaintiff alleges in the suit that having a Birth Certificate which does not match her gender identity has led to numerous instances of discrimination.
“After seeing her birth certificate, staff at the office referred to her as a ‘tranny,’ a derogatory term that disclosed F.V.’s transgender status to others in the waiting area,” attorneys with Lambda Legal alleged in court filings. “One of these individuals then called F.V. a ‘faggot’ as she was leaving the office.”
When the case was filed last year, F.V. claimed that continually being outed because of Idaho policy resulted in the threat of “outright violence” against her.
“I just want a birth certificate that accurately reflects who I am,” she said in a press release. “I hope that Idaho will give me the dignity of deciding when complete strangers get to know deeply private information about my life. It costs Idaho nothing to correct this piece of paper and recognize me as the woman that I am.”
Another plaintiff who signed onto the case, Dani Martin, alleged similar treatment. Martin claimed an employee with the Idaho Department of Motor Vehicles refused to believe that she is a woman and attempted to dispute her gender identity.
These experiences are extremely common among trans people who don’t have identity documents which correspond with their gender identity. According to a 2015 survey from the National Center for Trans Equality, one in three trans people who lack updated identification have been harassed, discriminated against, denied essential services, or even assaulted.
Calling the Idaho policy “archaic and unjust,” Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Peter Renn praised the federal court for effectively striking it down.
“Essential identity documents should accurately reflect who you are, and the court recognized that the government cannot rob transgender people of this basic tool to navigate through life,” Renn said in a statement. “With this change, transgender Idahoans will no longer be forced to represent that they are someone they are not and jeopardize their privacy and safety.”
The lawsuit is similar to a lawsuit in Puerto Rico over the government’s refusal to allow trans people to change their birth certificates. That case was filed last year and is currently pending in court.
Although 46 states currently allow trans people to update their birth documentation to match their gender identity, the process remains extremely prohibitive in a majority of states. A vast majority of states require either a court order or costly surgery prior to having one’s paperwork changed; many require both.
A bill waiving those requirements recently passed the Colorado House of Representatives. Bill sponsor Rep. Dominick Moreno called the current policies “burdensome and intrusive” in a recent interview with INTO.
“The process of a name change requires a notice be printed in the newspaper,” Moreno claimed, explaining that this rule leads to many trans people being publicly outed. The Democrat added that individuals are then forced to stand in a room “full of strangers and explain why they’d like their actual gender identity to be represented in their documents.”
As states work to bring their standards in line with the 21st century, F.V. celebrated a small step toward making that goal a reality.
“I am thrilled and proud that my own state will be updating their policies, even though it required a court order to do so,” said F.V., who currently lives in Hawaii. “I’m excited to be among the first to update their birth certificates.”
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