New Rhode Island law makes it easier to change gender on records


PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island has made it easier for transgender residents to change their gender designation on their birth certificates.

Rhode-IslandThe state Health Department removed the requirement that people have gender reassignment surgery before changing their gender on a birth certificate. Instead, a medical provider can certify that the person has gone through hormone therapy or another treatment.

Advocacy groups say surgical intervention is an outdated way to recognize one’s gender, and transgender people have been discriminated against and harassed for having identifying documents that did not match their gender identity.

Janson Wu, a senior staff attorney at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, said many states set their policies in the 1970s, when medical providers believed surgery was necessary for gender transition. Now, he said, there’s a wider recognition that there are numerous ways to transition. The American Medical Association has called for modernizing birth certificate policies.

Wu praised Rhode Island for being in line with contemporary medical thought and the best practices of six other states and several federal agencies. The new regulations that took effect Tuesday are similar to existing policies in California, Iowa, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington state and Washington, D.C., he said.

Jayeson Watts, of the TGI Network, said the change is significant because transgender people risk being discriminated against when they apply for jobs and their documents don’t match their identities. The network supports the state’s transgender community, which numbers between 500 and 2,000 people, according to Watts.

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“Any way we can remove a barrier to make things a little bit less challenging for them to live their lives authentically is a good victory for us,” he said.

Monique Paul, a transgender woman, says she plans to change her birth certificate so she can update her gender on her Social Security card.

“It’s another step in a long journey,” said Paul, a 59-year-old resident of Coventry.

She says she will feel “more complete” once her paperwork no longer says she’s male.

New birth certificates will be issued without designating that they have been changed.

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