Illinois sued for refusing to correct birth certificates

Well, this is fucked. Two transsexual women are suing the state of Illinois for refusing to change their birth certificates to reflect their gender identities.
When Kari Rothkopf went to her hometown in Springfield to change her birth certificate, the supervisor at the vital records office told her that it couldn’t be changed because she intended to have her gender reassignment surgery outside the U.S. (Both Rothkpf and Victoria “Tori” Kirk had their surgery in Thailand.) So the two teamed up with the ACLU to take action. Kirk said at a recent news conference:

“It could create significant problems for me in the future . . . A document that says I am male puts me at risk of embarrassment, harassment and possibly even physical violence.”

As all three are too well known to the trans community. Let’s hope these women get some justice for this bullshit.
via Feministe.

Join the Conversation

  • Amanda

    Agreed!

  • liv79

    I thought no one could change their birth certificate unless they were adopted? I once tried to change my son’s name on his because his father filled in his own last name rather than mine (we weren’t married) and I was told birth certificates can’t be altered.

  • prettymuch85

    It varies by state. Some states won’t change them at all, some are super easy. I think Ohio is one of the states where you can’t change them at all.

  • VT Idealist

    It may vary state to state, but my NH birth certificate has been ammended twice. Once shortly after I was born because my mother’s name was spelled incorrectly and again 20 years later, because it turned out that it didn’t have all of the proper signatures. I found that out while I was applying for my passport. In both cases, there is a note about what was corrected and when.

  • Mary M.

    You’re correct about Ohio not allowing changes–there was a case similar to this one maybe five years ago, and I’m pretty sure the party who sued lost the case.

  • sdwryter

    Illinois has been using birth certificates as a political tool for a long time. I don’t know if they still do it, but they used to require women to divulge the number of abortions that they have had as well as history of alcohol and drug use during pregnancy.
    They did not guarantee anonymity when this information was used for research — and there was no guarantee that it wouldn’t be used by anti-choice “researchers.”
    And they would not issue a birth certificate unless you complied.
    I’m still angry over this one.

  • Imitrex

    I have to admit, I don’t see why a “birth certificate” should be allowed to be changed. As the name implies, the birth certificate simply documents familial and medical facts about your birth. And these two were presumably born in Illinois as males correct? If you could legally change the “sex” designation on birth certificate, couldn’t you start changing other things? Couldn’t you argue that you identify with a different birthday, and therefore want to change your birth certificate to reflect that? Sometimes, facts are just facts, no matter how much wish they weren’t true.
    I can see the argument for getting your driver’s license changed, because a driver’s license is supposed to reflect current status, but shouldn’t birth certificates stay unaltered, as they are legal documents that take a snapshot at a particular moment in time?

  • Transprose

    Imitrex, birth certificates don’t “simply document familial and medical facts about your birth.”
    Your “slippery slope” argument doesn’t make any sense, either. Birth certificates can be changed for other things–name changes, adoptions, errors, etc.
    And it matters. Birth certificates are treated as The Ultimate Legal Identification. They’re required to prove your identity in many situations. If all your documents don’t match up neatly, a whole host of problems can show up–including “no-match” letters causing problems with employment, and being denied a passport.
    Lastly, your “facts are just facts” statement is a load of cissexist bullshit. Birth certificate gender markers don’t reveal any “truth” about a person’s sex at birth–they just record an infant’s assumed sex, as determined by a doctor’s opinion of the external genitals. For you and other cissexual people, that birth designation is a fact; for me and other transsexual people, my birth assigned sex was an error.
    If you’re confused, check out the comments on the Feministe thread, or the Questioning Transphobia blog.

  • Imitrex

    Yes, in fact, birth certificates do simply document facts about the birth. It’s right there in the name. It’s a certification of your birth. Trying to make them into a political statement is a waste of our time and resources.
    Also, my “slippery slope argument”, as you called it, does make sense (though it’s really more of an opinion than an argument). Yes, some states allow changes to original birth certificates, and some don’t. My opinion is that I don’t think original birth certificates should be altered. What some states do is offer an amended birth certificate. This certificate is just as good as an “Ultimate Legal Identification”, but it doesn’t require destroying or altering the original document, only issuing a newer one. This way, there is a legal record of the changes made. I’m in favor of this method, but I recognize that it is a matter of personal opinion, and respect yours too.
    And I’m sorry you disagree that sometimes facts are just facts and should not be susceptible to political posturing. But it’s a fact that at the moment we are born, we have certain physical traits. We may have female genitalia, male genitalia, or some combination of both. And though we can change these traits through surgery later in life, it doesn’t alter what they were at the moment of birth.
    If you’re confused, read a biology book, not comments in a blog.

  • doubleb

    I tend to agree with this. I suppose it’s largely a question of what purpose one thinks is primarily played by birth certificates. I tend to think of them as a record of an event, and not as a form of identification. If a genetically male child was born, that person may certainly later self-identify as a female, but that doesn’t suddenly make it the case that a genetically female child had been born. Of course, any thoughts on this will bring to bear a whole host of background assumptions about the nature of transsexual identity.

  • Imitrex

    “I tend to think of them as a record of an event, and not as a form of identification.”
    You said it much better than I could, but that is exactly what I was trying to say.

  • Gary LaPointe

    I think of it as a record of an event. And that’s the way things were at the time of birth. Amending it for a misspeling is different than changing the gender or name of someone.
    And the quote: “It could create significant problems for me in the future . . . A document that says I am male puts me at risk of embarrassment, harassment and possibly even physical violence.”
    Is irrelevant for them (maybe not for future people) because it’s much more likely to be found out by looking on the internet than by finding their birth certificate.
    When do people even use birth certificates these days? Passport? Driver’s License? Otherwise I haven’t touched these in years.
    BUT since you do want your Passport and Driver’s License to be correct, but applying to get them corrected seems more logical than changing an older legal document.
    And isn’t there a difference between, sex, gender and gender identify? The birth certificate might be a stupid form but the way it’s labeled (I said ‘labeled’ on purpose) but that’s the form. Let’s change the form!
    And for inconsistencies, we’ve got forms for people with name changes (marriage, adoption, etc.) so a form to document F/M inconsistencies seems easier (and more practical) than altered old documents….
    Gary
    http://GarySaid.com/

  • Gary LaPointe

    And as a minor follow-up to my “let’s change the form” comment. Birth certificates have all sorts of fields that are useless (like race/ethnicity) or incorrect (like father).
    Gary
    http://GarySaid.com/

  • Anacas

    Why is it so important to you that there be “a legal record of the changes made”? What compelling government interest requires trans people to disclose their trans status on a document that, like it or not, is used as a lot more than just a historical record?
    For that matter, why is it so terribly vital that genitalia at birth be recorded on a birth certificate? What a baby has under their diaper clearly isn’t an adequate predictor of someone’s gender as an adult. The only reason to make that aspect of a birth certificate immutable is to assert control over trans people’s right to identify their own gender, or act as if a trans woman is less of a woman than a cisgendered woman and a trans man is less of a man than a cis man. There are real, serious consequences to having identifying documents (which birth certificates are and will remain until we stop requiring them to obtain other ID) show someone is trans. Why would you allow an abstract idea of the importance of historical record supersede that immediate danger?
    There are plenty of other aspects of birth certificates reflect social rather than biological reality–some states privilege parental intent over biological relationships when deciding who to list as parents on a birth certificate in situations involving surrogacy and gamete donation; do you oppose that as well?

  • Anacas

    That quote is definitely not irrelevant. Yes, these women have been brave enough to be publicly trans on the internet, but that’s a very different thing than having to reveal a sensitive aspect of your medical history and identity every time you present your driver’s license or passport. The cop who pulled you over for speeding or the customs officer at the airport isn’t generally going to Google you. You might, however, be vulnerable to harassment, ridicule, and violence if the gender or sex marker on your ID doesn’t match your presentation.
    You need an amended birth certificate to change your gender on your passport and Social Security record, and in some places on your drivers license.
    Sure, let’s change the form. But in the meantime let’s stop endangering people who are inaccurately described by the status quo.

  • Anacas

    That quote is definitely not irrelevant. Yes, these women have been brave enough to be publicly trans on the internet, but that’s a very different thing than having to reveal a sensitive aspect of your medical history and identity every time you present your driver’s license or passport. The cop who pulled you over for speeding or the customs officer at the airport isn’t generally going to Google you. You might, however, be vulnerable to harassment, ridicule, and violence if the gender or sex marker on your ID doesn’t match your presentation.
    You need an amended birth certificate to change your gender on your passport and Social Security record, and in some places on your drivers license.
    Sure, let’s change the form. But in the meantime let’s stop endangering people who are inaccurately described by the status quo.

  • lana

    the interesting thing, to me, about this case, is that Illinois *will* change birth certificates in the case of gender reassignment surgery, but that they define this as something performed by a “physician”. In this article, they define physician as “a person licensed to practice medicine in Illinois or any other state. As in, one of the United States.” These women cannot change their birth certificates because Illinois does not consider their surgeries in Thailand to be legitimate.
    This is certainly a trans issue, but to me it says more about the fact that trans men and women are forced to go abroad for surgery because our health care system refuses to address their needs.

  • lana
  • MissKittyFantastico

    Yeah, that is really strange. If Illinois will change the birth certificate for surgery done in the states, why not for surgery done elsewhere? That doesn’t make much sense to me.
    I was surprised that the article seems to imply they haven’t had the surgery yet, and are already trying to change their birth certificates. I’d assume you’d have to do the surgery first.
    Actually, on rereading it isn’t clear. First it says she “intended” to have her surgery in Thailand, then it says she “had” her surgery in Thailand.

  • Gary LaPointe

    You’re talking my “irrelevant” comment out of context; it was specifically intended for comparing Googling to a Birth Certificate (if it’s a choice of one of those two, someone will likely start with googling). Your example doesn’t use a birth certificate it uses a driver’s license or passport which I specifically mentioned later on.
    I specifically said “BUT since you do want your Passport and Driver’s License to be correct, but applying to get them corrected seems more logical than changing an older legal document.”
    To clarify: I think a corrected Passport and Driver’s License is due (but that the Certificate of Birth is not the place to address it).
    Gary
    http://GarySaid.com/

  • zerk

    While i can’t be sure of the intent of Illinois current law, i suspect that it is simply influenced by some local policy makers being arrogantly racist/xenophobic. At least judging from some of the 2007 testimony over a proposed law that would’ve kept situations like this from happening:
    “Republican Rep. Bill Black said he objects to recognizing non-surgical sex changes. “Maybe you went somewhere and a voodoo doctor
    said you were now a man, where you had been a woman,” Black said.”
    (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/transgendernews/message/20109 emphasis mine)
    To me, its pretty telling that Black and his colleagues have a hard time realizing that outside of the U.S., including in the so-called “third world,” some of the medical opportunities are just flat-out better!

  • Anacas

    And I specifically noted that you need an amended birth certificate to amend other, more commonly demanded ID documents like passports and driver’s licenses.

  • zerk

    I think its the priorities inferred by this policy i find worrisome. Given the state of things currently:
    (1) birth certificates are used as a key identification documents
    (2) disclosing ones transgender status can subject an individual to *severe* violence, harassment, and discrimination.
    While i do enjoy aspects of living in a society that attempts to keep objective records for latter use, i would say in this case that the benefits of having the particular factoid of “genitals at/near birth” preserved on a document are no where near as important as the safety and survival of roughly 1/1000 of our population!
    Personally i am of the mind with the others who said that sex and/or gender is not important information to track on our birth certificates in the first place…
    But until that hope is realized, at the minimum the government should be pressed to allow transgender people some breathing room against its increasingly strict documentation requirements and a complete unwillingness to pass ENDA or similar recourse against discrimination.

  • brightred

    I only just skimmed by these remarks, so forgive me if I’m trying to point something out that’s already been observed, but I think one of the contributions of critical gender and queer theory over the last couple decades has been about the sociomedical construction of sex. Honestly, there’s been way too much work done around this for me to try to enumerate in a blog comment all the arguments around the construction of sex (the intersex rights movement would be only the most obvious example of how these constructions fail to reflect the reality of sexual and gendered diversity)… anyway, point being: there are a lot of feminists who would argue that it’s absurd to suggest that a birth certificate documents some kind of unassailable “fact” about someone. Of course I doubt that this is the kind of argument that the ACLU’s going to argue in their case, but I mean, come on guys, you all are going to argue here on a feminist blog that a birth certificate is obviously some kind of irrefutable documentation of the “facts” of an event? I’m a little scandalized.
    Also re: the utility of birth certificates, correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t you need them to get married? The University I’m at determines whether a couple is eligible for same sex partner benefits based on the birth certificates of both individuals, their rationale being if you’re opposite sex on your birth certificates, you’re legally able to avail yourself of heterosexual marriage.

  • Gary LaPointe

    But clearly, getting the amended birth certificate is a problem.
    So we’re back to my suggestion of “we’ve got forms for people with name changes (marriage, adoption, etc.) so a form to document F/M inconsistencies seems easier (and more practical) than altered old documents….”

  • Gary LaPointe

    @ brightred, your point on “if you’re opposite sex on your birth certificates, you’re legally able to avail yourself of heterosexual marriage” is really interesting.
    If I can petition to change my “sex” on my birth certificate I’ve got all sorts of options…

  • brightred

    Well yeah, but anyone can’t petition to change their birth certificate sex just cause they feel like it. For instance, I had to get rid of my boobs first (of course many states require genital surgery which is often unattainable not to mention undesirable for a huge number of trans folks, particularly FTMs). I don’t think this case is trying to remove some sort of surgery requirement from the equation.
    If there’s a state that doesn’t require surgery or at least hormone therapy (which is also irreversible) to change a birth certificate, I’d be curious to know it… I know a while back NY was trying to get it changed so you only needed a doctor to vouch for you but the measure failed.

  • http://aebrain.blogspot.com aebrain

    The law has been substantially the same since 1955, with the same wording, and has remained exactly the same since 1961.
    In the sections of Illinois Law regarding recognition of nurses, podiatrists, and doctors qualifications, it explicitly says that “state” includes “foreign states”.
    The first reassignment surgery in the USA was performed in the early 1970s, over 15 years after the law was passed. Before then, the only “states” a surgeon could be licenced in were the state of Morocco, and the state of Denmark.
    It wasn’t until 2005, 50 years after the legislation first came into effect, that the bureaucracy unilaterally decided that in addition to the surgeon’s letter, they needed the result to be inspected by a US-registered physician as well. And it wasn’t until 2007 that the bureaucracy, not the legislature, decided that even that wasn’t enough, the surgeon had to be registered in the USA as well. Then, when one foreign surgeon registered in the US to address this problem, the bureaucracy changed it yet again, to require that the surgeon be registered in the USA *at the time of the surgery*.
    None of this has any legal basis. The law hasn’t changed in over 50 years. It’s only the Policy of the Department of Records that’s changed.

  • Anacas

    What on Earth do you mean by “document F/M inconsistencies”? There’s no inconsistency here. Trans women are women. Some women are born with penises, some men are born with vaginas. Some people have their genitalia surgically altered, some don’t. No inconsistency. The “look at the crotch” method of determining gender is clearly flawed, so why is that physical characteristic so important that we need to record it?
    Yes, ideally people would be allowed to change their passports, drivers licenses, and other forms of ID without changing their birth certificate, but why is changing a birth certificate such a big deal? As I’ve already stated in other comments, there’s plenty of precedent for having birth certificates reflect social rather than biological facts. Recording parenthood, for example–in some places, an intended parent will be recorded as the mother on a birth certificate instead of a surrogate mother. A woman who carried her child resulting from egg donation will also be listed as the mother, even though her biological relationship to the child is exactly the same as a surrogate’s. Paternity tests aren’t required to list someone as the father, so the person recorded in that spot might not have any biological relationship to the child, but the social relationship takes precedence. We don’t put disclaimers on birth certificates for those situations.
    In many ways, altering a trans person’s birth certificate is just correcting a recording error–someone mistakenly thought the baby’s genitalia indicated their gender, they were wrong, now we’re fixing it. Some trans people feel they’ve always been the gender they are, and that any transition was purely a medical process to correct a birth defect. Some trans people don’t feel that way, and that’s fine too, but why can’t we respect the way the former group describe their own lives? It’s not like it hurts anyone.

  • Anacas

    What on Earth do you mean by “document F/M inconsistencies”? There’s no inconsistency here. Trans women are women. Some women are born with penises, some men are born with vaginas. Some people have their genitalia surgically altered, some don’t. No inconsistency. The “look at the crotch” method of determining gender is clearly flawed, so why is that physical characteristic so important that we need to record it?
    Yes, ideally people would be allowed to change their passports, drivers licenses, and other forms of ID without changing their birth certificate, but why is changing a birth certificate such a big deal? As I’ve already stated in other comments, there’s plenty of precedent for having birth certificates reflect social rather than biological facts. Recording parenthood, for example–in some places, an intended parent will be recorded as the mother on a birth certificate instead of a surrogate mother. A woman who carried her child resulting from egg donation will also be listed as the mother, even though her biological relationship to the child is exactly the same as a surrogate’s. Paternity tests aren’t required to list someone as the father, so the person recorded in that spot might not have any biological relationship to the child, but the social relationship takes precedence. We don’t put disclaimers on birth certificates for those situations.
    In many ways, altering a trans person’s birth certificate is just correcting a recording error–someone mistakenly thought the baby’s genitalia indicated their gender, they were wrong, now we’re fixing it. Some trans people feel they’ve always been the gender they are, and that any transition was purely a medical process to correct a birth defect. Some trans people don’t feel that way, and that’s fine too, but why can’t we respect the way the former group describe their own lives? It’s not like it hurts anyone.

  • keshmeshi5

    Unlike some others here I have no problem with transgendered people being allowed to change their birth certificates. However, I find the title of this post misleading to say the least. Nothing is being corrected. When those women were born, they were male. No one, not the doctors, not the parents, and certainly not the state, could have predicted that they would identify as female. Those birth certificates are being changed, not “corrected”.

  • Xenophobes

    Hi
    If you think there men than there is no point in discussing transgendered issues with you….Is there?
    But if I follow your logic it is ok to provide a person some protections of privacy, but not all.
    Xenophobes_suck