The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing the Illinois Department of Public Health for refusing to correct birth certificates of transgender and transsexual people, requiring proof they have undergone a series of sex-reassignment surgeries before they can change the sex marker on their birth certificates.
The ACLU released a statement May 10, claiming that the State Registrar of Vital Records had failed to uphold a promise it made two years ago to amend outdated policies that blocked most transgender men and many transgender women from updating their birth certificates.
This tracks a similar suit that was filed in New York a few months ago, and brings a reminder of the federal government's change of policies regarding the birth certificates it issues for foreign births. The story also raises some questions about whether the ACLU knows what it's doing, its relationship with the local trans community, and whether the local trans community knows what it's doing.
According to the Windy City times, the lawsuit was filed on behalf of two transgender men and one transgender woman.
Grey told Windy City Times that she has been working on changing her documents to say female since 2006 and has successfully changed her name and driver's license, although updating documents has cost her more than $1,000 in both application and legal fees. She said she has been trying to change her birth certificate for more than a year and was recently rejected because she had not completed all the surgeries required.
The article says that it is unclear whether the state registrar of vital records currently has a written policy. In addition, until 2005, most transgender people had been able to change their birth certificates without undergoing surgeries. It's rather surprising to hear of a state going backwards like this once the policy is made more progressive.
Interestingly, the article also says that the ACLU represented three transgender individuals who sued IDPH for birth certificate amendments in 2009. That was settled, granting the plaintiffs' birth certificate changes, and throwing out a policy that refused to recognize transgender surgeries performed by physicians licensed outside of the country, and promising to update birth certificate policies to make it easier for transgender people to update their paperwork.
The ACLU said that IDPH failed to make good on that promise.
IDPH released a new proposed policy in January, but that proposal was met with immediate opposition by transgender community leaders. It also mandated a laundry list of surgeries, especially for transgender men who rarely undergo genital surgery, which is both costly and still considered experimental by many.
Strangely enough, or perhaps not so strangely given the fractured nature of the trans community, Illinois Gender Advocates, an advocacy group that had been working with IDPH for the past few years trying to come up with a policy, released a statement of non-support for the lawsuit.
"We are dismayed that the ACLU has chosen to independently interject itself into the process, in such a confrontational and non-productive manner," the Illinois Gender Advocates statement read.
The Illinois Gender Advocates is an interesting organization. It has a series of videos from its cable TV show, as well as training videos they have produced. Here's their video channel. I don't have any information on what their proposed policy would have said.
But the ACLU spokesperson said his clients cannot wait any longer. "We've been telling the department for two years that its arbitrary surgery rules clash with the medical standard of care for transgender people and make it impossible for most transgender people to correct the gender on their birth certificates," he said in the press release. "We took them at their word when they said they would make an appropriate change, but all we've seen is more delay. It's time that they did something to fix that."
Interestingly, the Windy City Times has a quote from the ACLU that raised my eyebrows.
"Illinois is the only state that requires genital surgery," said John Knight, who directs the ACLU's LBGT and AIDS Project. Knight said that other states that allow transgender people to amend their birth certificates typically require a doctor's letter stating that a person has changed their sex in some way, even if they haven't undergone genital surgery.
I may not be up on the latest, but the last time I looked, Illinois is the not the only state that requires genital surgery. A lot of them do. In fact, the New York-based Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a similar suit back in March of this year, based on New York State's refusal to amend birth certificates without genital surgery.
The federal government also changed its requirements for the Consular Report of Birth Abroad, the federal government's equivalent of a birth certificate for births outside the U.S. Surgery is no longer the criterion for correcting that document.
There's a lot here in this story, and it will be interesting to hear more about some of the questions that it raises, including the propriety of the Illinois rules regarding birth certificates, the Illinois Gender Advocates group's work with the Illinois Department, and the ACLU's relationship with the trans community after filing this lawsuit.