Advocates work to change the gender marker on Virginia birth certificates

The transgender flag

The transgender flag

When local woman Melissa Paige went in to get the birth marker changed on her birth certificate back in 2010, it was kind of a nightmare.

Even though she had been living as a woman full time since 2007, the department of vital records needed a pile of documents, among them was detailed proof she had undergone gender reassignment surgery.

“Somebody’s who’s smart enough could probably take [a copy of what I turned in] and do the surgery themselves,” Paige said about the extent of the details the state needed. ”How much gausses they used, how many centimeters they cut, what tool they used to cauterize. It’s my whole entire surgery on paper.”

Luckily she’d had friends who went through the process before, so she had an idea of what to expect. The process took about four months, and one trip to the department to make sure she got the documents done.

But once she had her birth certificate in order, all her other documents – from her drivers licenses to her social security card – fell into place.

“It was boom boom boom, got the rest done,” she said.

Paige’s is not the only one who has had to jump hurdles to get where she is today, and advocates from the Commonwealth and beyond are hoping to make the process she went through a bit easier.

A petition filed by Equality Virginia and the DC-based National Center for Transgender Equality, and sent to the Virginia Department of Vital Records, aims to remove the surgical requirement for gender marker change applicants on birth certificates, as well as the requirement for a court order (something Paige said she handled herself, but often requires a lawyer.) In simplifying the process, the LGBTQ support groups believe it will create some consistency throughout the legal document system.

“Folks will call and say they updated their info with the DMV, with the doctors office, but they’ll get something in the mail that won’t match,” said Brandon Day, Communications Coordinator for Equality Virginia. “That’s where the complaints are coming from.”

EV has held events explaining the exhaustive gender marker change process in the past, and while it is easy in other state documents, like a driver’s license at the DMV, changing the marker on a birth certificate is still considered intrusive and cumbersome by some.

“It’s not just a theoretical; having a birth certificate that reflects who you are is very important for an individual when you’re applying for a job or enrolling in school, or going to get other identity documents,” said Arlie Christian, State Policy Council for the Transgender Center for Equality. She said Virginia’s policy is not unlike many other states where her group is doing similar work.

The actual requirements from the state as they stand now, according to Christian, deal with a court order and medical documents, but what’s considered a valid medical document in that court order is up to the Virginia Board of the Health. Christian said the BOH set the standards too high in the past, and now this petition aims to have them reinterpreted to simplify the process.

No matter the how complex the process is, Christian said having a corrected brith certificate is key to having trans people live a healthy life.

“This is really an important part in reducing discrimination the trans community faces,” she said. “We’re very hopeful that this will move forward.”

The petition is currently in its first of three public comment periods. The process is expected to take up to a year, but public comment is welcome throughout- you can add your support here.

This process isn’t the best case scenario however, much like changes made by the last administration around abortion clinics, a more conservative Governor could come in and reassign BOH members who would be less supportive of the transgender community.

“Anytime we make progress through administrative changes vs. statutory changes, we face that risk,” said Christian. “Let’s hope a new board wouldn’t come in with that kind of animosity that they would want to make peoples lives more difficult, but that’s always a possibility, as it is when we change a law.”


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