TALLAHASSEE – A Broward Judge will have to decide if self-identification is enough to allow the Florida Department of Health to carry out a teenager's request to change his gender on his birth certificate, a transgender inclusion expert said during a recent interview.
On its face, the answer appears to be no, Equality Florida Action Transgender Inclusion Director Gina L. Duncan said during a Florida Record email interview.
"I assume that he is too young to adhere to the surgery requirements to have it changed," Duncan said.
Duncan also said the Florida law should be changed so that gender self-identification alone, backed by licensed mental health professional, would be enough to change the gender listing on birth certificates, much as is already allowed for driver's licenses.
Under the current Florida statute, § 382.016, the state's Office of Vital Statistics, which is overseen by the Florida Department of Health, may change the gender designation on birth certificates after certain requirements are met. Those include a certified copy of a court order for the name change and a sworn affidavit from a physician who performed sex reassignment surgery on the individual who wants the gender designation changed.
How that law may be interpreted is critical to the case of a Broward teen and his parents who've already received court approval to change his name and gender on his birth certificate. The Florida Department of Health balked and then asked a Broward judge in July whether the law does allows for a change in gender on a birth certificate in the case of the unnamed 14-year-old who currently is too young to undergo gender reassignment surgery.
“This particular request presents an unprecedented issue for the department,” attorney Nichole Geary, counsel for the Department of Health, said in a petition filed July 19 in Leon County's 2nd Judicial Circuit Court in Leon County.
A hearing on the matter is expected soon.
It isn't clear how many transgender cases similar to this one exist. While exact numbers are not available, the need to change gender on identification documents comes up often enough in Florida that thetransitionalmale.com offers a name and gender change kit specific to the state. Similar advice specific to Florida also is offered at lgbtrightstoolkit.org, which states that gender on existing birth certificates can be changed after gender reassignment surgery.
How critical is it for transgender people to have a birth certificate that reflects the gender with which they identify varies by individual, Duncan said.
"Because of the lack of definitive direction in this area, most trans people are OK with just changing name and gender markers on their driver's license and Social Security number," she said. "All of those IDs can be changed with a 'gender dysphoria' letter, versus having to show proof of gender reassignment [surgery] as is needed for birth certificate change."
Just how much of a problem is caused by not having that gender designation changed on a birth certificate depends on why the birth certificate is required, Duncan said.
"It is a problem for any situation which calls for a birth certificate," she said. "Otherwise as noted above, other personal ID changes suffice."
However, requiring transgender people to undergo surgery before their birth certificates can be changed, rather than simply following their own self-identification as is allowed for driver's licenses, does cause real problems, Duncan said.
"Many trans people choose not to have surgery or cannot afford it," she said. "Young people cannot have surgery until after puberty in most cases."
And that is why the law should be changed, Duncan said.
"The statute should be changed to align with the requirements for changing gender marker on driver's license," she said. "Simply a letter from a licensed mental health professional stating the person has gender dysphoria. No name change or surgery should be required."