Updating New Jersey’s birth certificate law

By Erin Fitzgerald, Urvashi Vaid Research Fellow & Kate Flemming Task Force Fellow for Social Justice

“Together we could break this trap. We’ll run till we drop, baby, we’ll never go back.”

This week, I had the pleasure of returning to my former home of New Jersey to testify in support of A4097, a statute that would update procedure and remove surgical requirements to change gender markers on birth certificates for transgender people. I went to Trenton to testify on behalf of the Task Force but I was accompanied by my mother-in-law, a New Jersey resident, fierce advocate, and mom to a transgender man. We testified alongside transgender veterans and lawyers, advocates, and other parents of transgender children, some of whom were still very young and some who were full grown.

As it currently stands, New Jersey’s birth certificate law is outdated and ineffective. When the current statute was established in 1984, it was a cutting edge law. Unfortunately it has not been updated since then, and is in need of modernization. In New Jersey, only 31% of transgender people have been able to change their birth certificate to match their current gender identity. Sadly, 18% of New Jersey residents have been flat out denied the right to update their birth certificate gender markers.

Maintaining surgical requirements presents an undue burden for many transgender people to change their birth certificate. Surgical transition requires costly medical procedures that are typically not covered by health insurance. Besides the prohibitive costs, there are countless other reasons why transgender men and women elect not to have surgery. In our survey, Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, only 33% of transgender respondents reported that they had surgically transitioned.

Many New Jerseyans have been able to change some of their ID documents, but not all of them. Over 55% of transgender residents of New Jersey have been able to update their drivers license. This creates substantial confusion when multiple ID’s are required, such as applying for jobs, seeking education or obtaining a loan. When gender markers on ID documents are mismatched, red flags are raised in the paperwork processing system. This entails countless hours of work performed by state employees and private businesses. This outdated requirement clogs the system unnecessarily and wastes valuable work hours. In times of financial struggle, efficiency is key to maintaining a healthy economy.

Not only is this ineffective, but it is dangerous as well. In New Jersey, 29% of transgender men and women reported being harassed when presenting mismatch ID documents.

Beyond the intrinsic value of having a birth certificate that corresponds to their identity, transgender people need to change the gender marker on their birth certificate for many other critical reasons. This new statute will help to modernize the requirements for updating one’s birth certificate in New Jersey. Rather than proving completion of a surgical procedure, a transgender person would be required to produce a medical certificate from a licensed health care provider who has evaluated the person, and determined that they received “appropriate clinical treatment.”

Here’s part of the testimony my husband’s mom gave yesterday:

As the mother of a transgender man, I can tell you, with a high degree of certainty, that one does not make the decision to transition from one gender to another lightly or easily. My son’s journey was fraught with frightening, often embarrassing, hurdles and challenges, which he faced and overcame with a courageous conviction that, quite frankly, humbled me. It still does…A birth certificate is the most basic proof we have of who we are.

This bill addresses the fact that many transgender people in New Jersey, despite having changed their name and some of their identity documents, are unable to update their birth certificate to reflect who they really are.