Should Surgery Be Necessary for Trans People to Change Birth Certificates? AMA Say No. 

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
June 11 2014 4:45 PM

AMA Says Surgery Should Not Be Required for Transgender People to Change Birth Certificates

shutterstock_56441374
This has nothing to do with surgery.

Nancy Catherine Walker / Shutterstock.com

While it’s not a cure-all, the support of large U.S. medical organizations can go a long way toward helping minority communities make progress on issues that impact their lives. The transgender community received just such a boost earlier this week when the American Medical Association announced a new official position on one of the most vexing bureaucratic struggles trans people face: Gender reassignment surgery, the AMA said, should not be required in order for individuals to change their birth certificate.

As Forbes reports, “most states require a court order as well as proof the transgender person has had surgery before the local government will issue a birth certificate.” The problem with this, of course, is that many trans people cannot afford or do not otherwise have access to surgery, and others do not desire or feel the need for surgery (especially genital surgery) in order to confirm their felt gender identity. At this point, it should be well recognized that a person can validly “transition” without actually having medical intervention.

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In any case, as the AMA statement notes, medical decisions should be left between a patient and her doctor. Birth certificates and similar documents exist apart from that intimate and private discussion, and as the AMA rightly recognizes, the state should not be concerned with the so-called “fullness” of physical changes when acknowledging a citizen’s trans identity on legal documents. Luckily, some policy-makers are evolving on this issue—New York state recently announced it would not require surgical proof as part of birth certificate change requests. But most states lag behind on this and other trans issues, and—if a recent CBS poll in which 59 per cent of respondents would limit trans people to the restroom facilities of their assigned gender is any indication—many citizens do, too.

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.

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