The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island and Youth Pride Inc. today commended the RI Department of Health for adopting new “vital records” regulations this week that will make it easier for transgender people to revise the gender designation on their birth certificate.

Beyond the intrinsic value of having a birth certificate that corresponds to their identity, transgender people may have a strong need to change the gender marker on their birth certificate for many critical reasons related to employment, schooling, as well as social recognition of their gender.

Until now, the DOH essentially required gender reassignment surgery in order to change the gender designation on a birth certificate. The current medical consensus is clear that surgery is neither appropriate nor necessary for many transgender people, and such a requirement therefore imposes an unreasonable and unwarranted burden. 

Under the new policy, the DOH will allow a gender marker change based on certification by a medical provider that the individual has undergone surgical and/or hormone treatment or “other treatment appropriate for the individual.” In order to protect individual privacy, the regulations also allow new birth certificates with the appropriate gender designation to be issued without indicating that the birth certificate has been changed.

Across the country, other agencies have adopted inclusive policies similar to this one. In recent years, for example, the U.S. Department of State and the Social Security Administration have revised their policies to recognize that gender transitions do not require surgery. The states of Oregon, Washington, Vermont and California, as well as the District of Columbia, have also adopted comparable standards to ensure that transgender individuals can obtain accurate identification without proof of surgery. This approach recognizes that the state should not be substituting its judgment over that of licensed health care professionals.

“This is another great step towards equality and inclusion for transgender Rhode Islanders,” said Kerri Kanelos, Executive Director of Youth Pride Inc. “These updated regulations will now allow transgender people to obtain accurate birth certificates that match their other vital documents, as they access employment, housing, education, and many other systems that require this documentation.”

ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown added: “Rhode Island was one of the first states to ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression. Yet we know that transgender individuals continue to face severe and blatant discrimination. It is critical that they be able to obtain, without unnecessary obstacles, essential documentation from the state to accurately reflect their identity. Adoption of these regulations goes a long way in furthering the state’s leadership in protecting transgender rights.”

Under the new rules, the medical certifications can be provided by physicians, registered nurses and physician assistants. The ACLU and YPI both said they hoped that at some point in the future the DOH would expand the list to include qualified mental health professionals, who also regularly provide treatment for transgender individuals.

The ACLU of RI and Youth Pride Inc. previously testified in support of these regulations helping transgender people. The new rules take effect in twenty days.