Politics & Government

Kansas weighs proposal to prevent transgender people from changing birth certificates

Kansas would become one of four states to bar transgender people from updating the sex on their birth certificates under a proposed regulation change, activists say.

Current regulations allow a person to change the gender on his or her birth certificate after gender reassignment surgery.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment seeks to require people who want to alter their gender on a birth certificate to provide medical documentation that it was incorrectly recorded at birth.

That would effectively prohibit transgender people from changing their birth certificate after they transition, opening them up to discrimination and harassment, transgender activists say.

The National Center for Transgender Equality says only Idaho and Tennessee have legal policies against changing gender listings on birth certificates, though Ohio also is not allowing it.

The proposed change would out a transgender person any time they need to use their birth certificate – as part of a job or housing application or registering to vote, for example, said Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU in Kansas. The federal government allows transgender people to change their gender on documents after they transition, he said.

Eileen Hawley, spokeswoman for Gov. Sam Brownback, issued a one-paragraph statement on the proposed change: “Birth certificates are intended to be an official record of birth including all relevant, accurate information about that birth. The Kansas statute allows only minor corrections to birth certificates and changing the sex designation is not a minor change.”

The effort comes amid scrutiny of a new law in North Carolina requiring transgender people to use public bathrooms, showers and changing rooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificate. The U.S. Justice Department and the state’s governor sued each other this week.

Change stigmatizes transgender people, activist says

Stephanie Mott, a transgender activist, warned that the proposal, which was reviewed in a public forum in Topeka on Thursday, would contribute to the stigmatization of transgender people.

She pointed to a 2014 study by the Williams Institute, a think tank based at UCLA that studies sexual orientation and gender identity, that found transgender people are less likely to attempt suicide when their gender identity is validated and more likely to attempt suicide when they experience discrimination.

“Children will die. These regulations will be written in their blood,” Mott said.

She said she thought of suicide daily until she began her transition in 2005 and began to turn her life around. She will graduate with a master’s degree in social work from Washburn University this week.

Mott filed a lawsuit against KDHE in February after the agency denied her application to change her birth certificate despite the wording of the current regulations.

Change needed, state says

Cassie Sparks, spokeswoman for KDHE, said the change is intended to “bring the existing regulations into compliance with Kansas law.”

She cited a 2002 ruling in an estate case by the Kansas Supreme Court that found that a marriage between a man and a transgender woman was invalid because in the eyes of court she was legally a man.

Sparks could not say for sure how many the years the agency had allowed transgender individuals to update their birth certificates. No one spoke in favor of the change at the forum.

Pedro Irigonegaray, an attorney representing Mott, called the agency’s decision to cite the 2002 case ridiculous. He said if that ruling was contested in court today, it would be found unconstitutional. He also said that citing the 2002 case does not justify “the harm that the agency is doing to people like Stephanie.”

“This didn’t come out of nowhere. This came out of an administration that is completely and totally willing to harm innocent people,” he said.

‘A record for future generations’

Contacted after the hearing, Republican state Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook said a birth certificate is “a record for future generations” and shouldn’t be changed lightly. She said the document should reflect the “science” behind a person’s gender and not “political purposes.”

“Men and women are biologically different,” she said. “I don’t think we should become detached from reality.”

Last year, Brownback eliminated a protection for gay and transgender state workers that prohibited workplace discrimination, contending that former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius had overstepped her bounds by enacting it in the first place.

The proposed change to the birth certificate regulations does not need legislative approval. The final decision on whether to enact them will be up to KDHE Secretary Susan Mosier, who did not attend the forum.

Mott said she would like to sit down with Mosier and Brownback “and have them get to know me as a human being … then they would see that a lot of these preconceptions about what transgender people are like are entirely wrong.”

Contributing: Associated Press

Bryan Lowry: 785-296-3006, @BryanLowry3

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