Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Transgender Community Frustrated
New York City’s Board of Health has withdrawn its proposal to allow people to determine their own sex on their birth certificate. This on the heels of its ground breaking actions against smoking, and lately against trans fats. The proposal was intended to reduce sex discrimination. Not the old fashioned and somewhat dated kind, against women, but rather the more cutting edge kind, against people who choose to live as members of the opposite sex, opposite of what they are physically, that is (ones who have actually been cut were not affected by this change). You don’t hear much about that, since it can be kind of hard to tell if the discrimatee is correspondently dressed, but apparently that is a problem in New York City.
The Board had anticipated and addressed the problem of people switching back and forth, Willy-Nelly, so to speak, by requiring that a doctor verify that the gender preference was permanent. It was not specified how the doctor was to make the determination, since there was no required physical change, but the thought was there. Permanent ink on the birth certificate would be one idea.
However, as usual when fiddling with peoples prejudices, there came a big fuss. Hospitals wondered how they could determine who to put in a bed next to someone who was still satisfied with their original designation. You probably did not know that nurses checked your birth certificate to determine your gender, but then you may not have been following the latest improvements in your right to privacy. And of course the penal authorities were concerned about whom to jail with whom if sex was just a matter of preference. What if someone changed their mind while incarcerated? Is the change effective immediately, or only when the change is formally entered on the birth certificate? Is there a free trial period?
“This is something we hadn’t fully thought through, frankly,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the city’s health commissioner. “What the birth certificate shows does have implications beyond just what the birth certificate shows.” The good doctor said the board thought that most jurisdictions had similar rules in deference to the transgender community. “We felt going into it that it was fairly standard,” he said, “but as we looked into it we discovered that it was implicit, not explicit.”
Transgender advocates were not placated, feeling that the city caved to people that feared interacting with men who live as women and women who live as men. “I fear that because of the public attention, they lacked the courage to give the proposed amendment the consideration it deserved” said Shannon Minter, a board member and lawyer for the Transgender Law and Policy Institute.
The approach had promised to be a powerful tool in fighting discrimination of all kinds. Suppose you could change your race on your birth certificate? Better yet, your age?