Credit: The Gender Spectrum Collection

Welcome to the first edition of the Legal Corner, a regular blog post brought to you by Daniel McCarey and Allison McPherson of Youth Represent. Youth Represent provides free legal services to over 1,000 young people in NYC every year, including to patients at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center as part of our medical-legal partnership. Now, they’re bringing their legal knowledge directly to you in regular posts about legal issues that impact teens and young adults.

In January, 2019, New York City took a major step toward fully affirming the rights of transgender and non-binary individuals when two major changes related to gender markers took effect.

First, people born in NYC now have a third gender marker option: gender X. This option affirms non-binary identities, and lets folks who don’t identify as male or female choose a gender marker that aligns more closely with their gender.

Second, folks in NYC no longer need a letter from their doctor to change the gender marker on their birth certificate. Instead, they only need to sign a self-attestation form. This eliminates a major barrier to gender marker changes.

Below, we break down why these changes are huge steps forward for trans rights and what you need to know if you want to change your gender marker on a NYC birth certificate or IDNYC. Keep in mind that these changes do not apply to driver’s licenses, passports or other forms of ID.

What are gender markers and why would someone want to change them?

Gender markers are the male/M or female/F on passports, driver’s licenses, birth certificates and other government documents and IDs. They indicate what your gender is.

Many transgender and gender expansive folks change their gender markers as part of transitioning. Being transgender means that someone’s innate, internal sense of their own gender doesn’t match the gender they were assigned at birth. Keep in mind that someone’s gender identity doesn’t say anything about their sexual orientation (which genders they’re attracted to)—only what gender they are.

Why do these changes matter?

For trans and gender expansive folks, having an ID that doesn’t match their true gender identity can be dangerous and distressing. Their ID outs them as trans, which puts them at risk for anti-trans violence. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, more than one in four trans folks has been assaulted because of their gender identity. Trans women and trans people of color face even higher rates of violence.

In addition, seeing the wrong gender marker on an ID can trigger feelings of dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is the distress and pain that some trans people may feel when they’re misgendered or reminded of the disconnect between their real gender and the gender assigned to them at birth.

Plus, having only “male” and “female” options reinforces an oppressive, binary view of gender that erases non-binary folks’ identities and experiences. Including a third option validates these identities and recognizes the importance of trans rights.

Let’s take a moment to recognize what a major victory this is for trans activists!

This change in NYC policy is part of a larger movement across the country to recognize the self-determination of the trans community. Thanks to the hard work of trans activists across the country, more and more state and city governments are beginning to offer gender neutral markers. Oregon, California, Maine and Washington, D.C. allow residents to choose a gender neutral option on their driver’s licenses, while California, Oregon, Washington and New Jersey have a third gender option for birth certificates.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that all barriers to changing gender markers are gone.

Officially changing the gender marker on government documents isn’t a simple, streamlined process. Each document—birth certificate, driver’s license, passport, social security card, etc.—needs to be updated individually with a different agency. This process can be lengthy, complicated, expensive and sometimes overwhelming. If you want to begin the process of changing your gender markers and/or name, find support where you can.

Keep in mind that the new NYC law only applies to birth certificates.  Unfortunately, there still isn’t a third gender option for New York state driver’s licenses or federal documents. This means that if you do change your birth certificate or IDNYC to gender X, there will be a discrepancy in how your gender is recorded on different documents. This isn’t necessarily a problem. However, we always recommend updating as many documents as you can, so they’re as consistent as possible.

In addition, changing the gender marker on your birth certificate still costs $55. Since trans communities are disproportionately impacted by employment discrimination, homelessness and housing insecurity, this cost can be a significant barrier.

If you were born in NYC and want to update the gender marker on your birth certificate (to X, male or female), here’s what you’ll need:

  1. A completed Correcting a Birth Certificate If you are under 18 years old, a parent or legal guardian will have to fill out the form.
  2. A copy of a current, signed photo ID
  3. A check or money order for $55, made out to the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. This includes a $40 processing fee and a $15 fee for a new certificate.
  4. A signed and notarized self-attestation form requesting a change on your birth certificate to a gender marker that conforms with your gender identity. If you are 18 years old or older, you can find the form here. If you are under 18 years old, a parent or legal guardian must fill out this form. You can get forms notarized at many banks, UPS stores and other places. Just make sure you bring the right form of ID to the notary with you.

When you have all of the required documents, mail them to:

New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene
Corrections Unit
125 Worth Street, Room 144, CN-4
New York, NY 10013

What about IDNYC?

Gender X is also an option on your IDNYC. IDNYC is a form of free photo ID. It’s available to anyone over the age of 10 who lives in NYC, regardless of immigration status. Want a government-issued form of ID with the right gender identity on it? NYCID is a relatively fast and easy option. You don’t need to fill out any additional paperwork—just choose your preferred gender marker when you apply. You can learn more here.

How can I change my gender marker and name on other government documents?

You can find more information about how to change your gender marker and name from the Sylvia Rivera Law Project here. If you’re under 25 years old in NYC, you can get free legal services, including help with name and gender marker changes, from Youth Represent.

Daniel McCarey is a graduate of the City University of New York (CUNY) Law School. He is dedicated to advocating for marginalized and oppressed communities within the framework of collective liberation. Daniel has experience in a number of legal and social services including, but not limited to, special education law, criminal law, benefits, and healthcare.

Allison McPherson is a paralegal with Youth Represent, with prior experience in social work and children’s mental health. She is passionate about partnering with young people who are disenfranchised to foster a sense of empowerment in a broken system. Allison approaches client work with a trauma-informed lens and motivational interviewing techniques.

The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 12,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.